Light or still heavy: scientists told how much one cloud weighs

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    The clouds look light and fluffy, but they are actually very heavy – they can be compared to the total weight of 100 elephants.

    Related video

    When looking at clouds from the bottom up or watching them from an airplane, the clouds seem soft and fluffy, and may seem to be lighter than air. But clouds are actually much heavier than they seem. How much do clouds weigh? Scientists answered this question for Live Science.

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    Clouds are made up mostly of air and millions of tiny water droplets that form when water condenses around other particles that are also very tiny.

    “To find out the weight of a cloud, you need to weigh the water vapor that makes it up, and you also need to know how densely packed the water droplets are,” says Armin Sorushyan from Arizona State University, USA.

    Margaret LeMoone of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, USA, decided to find out how much water weighs in an ordinary cumulus cloud (these are dense bright white clouds in the daytime sky).

    Light or still heavy: scientists told how much one cloud weighs

     Light or still heavy: scientists told how much one cloud weighs

    First, she measured the size of the shadow cast by the cloud, and then its height, and thus in her calculations the cloud had a cubic shape. Clouds are not usually cubic, but cumulus often have almost the same height and width, so this assumption simplified the calculations.

    “Based on previous research, I estimated the density of water droplets in the cloud at a level of 0.5 grams per cubic meter. My calculations showed that the volume of water in the cloud is approximately 550 tons,” LeMoone says.

    “If, for example, we take the weight of an elephant, which averages from 4 to 6 tons, then this means that about 100 elephants weigh over our heads, and this is very impressive,” says Sorushyan.

    According to scientists, different types of clouds, respectively, have different weights. For example, cirrus clouds will be much lighter because they contain much less water per unit volume of the cloud. But cumulonimbus clouds (these are dark clouds that can be seen right before a thunderstorm), on the contrary, will be much heavier.

    Light or still heavy: scientists told how much one cloud weighs

     Light or still heavy: scientists told how much one cloud weighs

    weight values ​​for individual clouds,” says Sorushyan.

    If clouds are so heavy, why don't they fall to the ground?

    “The fact is that the water drops in the clouds are so tiny, they don't fall very fast. The average water drop in a cloud is about 1 million times smaller than a raindrop. It's like comparing the size of the Earth and the Sun. Wind currents at high altitude, they carry these droplets and keep them in the air much longer than if they were not moving,” says LeMoone.

    Thermal convection also helps keep droplets in the air, the scientists say. After all, the cloud is actually less dense than the air below it. As warm air (and warm water) rises, it covers the cold air (and cold water) underneath the cloud, like a layer of foam in a latte.

    Light or still heavy: scientists told how much one cloud weighs

     Light or still heavy: scientists told how much one cloud weighs

    “Of course, you can say that clouds fall down as rain. When cloud droplets cool and condense, they grow and eventually become so heavy that they fall to the ground,” says Sorushyan.

    Although a raindrop is much larger than a drop in a cloud, each raindrop is only 2 millimeters in diameter. These little droplets distribute the weight so that 550 tons of water doesn't immediately fall down.

    “The next time you look up into the sky and see a small cloud, just remember that it actually weighs like 100 elephants. And be glad that nature has done everything so that this weight does not fall on your head at one time,” says Sorushyan.

    In fact, the Earth is the most hospitable place in space, at least least of those planets that are known to science. For example, as Focus already wrote, scientists presented a study of a very hot super-Earth, where the year lasts 17.5 hours, and the temperature reaches 2 thousand degrees Celsius.