A patchwork of bright, criss-crossing cloud tr…

A patchwork of bright, criss-crossing cloud trails was created by ships churning through the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Portugal and Spain in this image captured by one of our Earth observing satellites. The narrow clouds known as ship tracks, form when water vapor condenses around tiny particles of pollution that ships emit.

Some of the pollution particles generated by ships (especially sulfates) are soluble in water and serve as the seeds around which cloud droplets form. Clouds infused with ship exhaust have more and smaller droplets than unpolluted clouds. Because of this, the light hitting the polluted clouds scatters in many directions, making them appear brighter and thicker than unpolluted marine clouds, which are typically seeded by larger, naturally occurring particles such as sea salt.

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