The clouds above us.

A remarkable endeavour by the BBC.

A team of scientists take to the skies in one of the world's largest airships, for a unique exploration of Earth's most precious and mysterious environment - the atmosphere.
A team of scientists take to the skies in one of the world’s largest airships, for a unique exploration of Earth’s most precious and mysterious environment – the atmosphere.

In an example of what might be called a massive change of topic from yesterday’s post on Integrity and democracy, today’s offering to you, dear reader, is about the magnificent atmosphere upon which we all depend.

Here’s a clue.

Sunrise to our North-East at a little after 7am on Sunday, 13th July, 2014.
Sunrise to our North-East at a little after 7am on Sunday, 13th July, 2014.

Yes, the BBC have embarked on what they are calling Operation Cloud Lab: Secrets of the Skies. Over on that website, one can read this:

Every Breath We Take: Understanding Our Atmosphere

The air around us is not just empty space; it is an integral part of the chemistry of life. Plants are made from carbon dioxide, nitrogen nourishes the soil and oxygen gives us the energy we need to keep our hearts pumping and our brains alive. But how did we come to understand what air is made of? How did we come to know that this invisible stuff around us contains anything at all?

Gabrielle Walker tells the remarkable story of the quest to understand the air. It’s a tale of heroes and underdogs, chance encounters and sheer blind luck that spans the entire history of science. It began as a simple desire to further our knowledge of the natural world, but it ended up uncovering raw materials that have shaped our modern world, unravelling the secrets of our own physiology and revealing why we are here at all.

There is much more to explore on the website, including this trailer to the programme.

Oh, here’s another ‘clue’ from Oregon.

Same morning, same sunrise.
Same morning, same sunrise.

The presenter of the BBC series is Felicity Aston who writes on her BBC Blog:

I joined Operation Cloud Lab: Secrets Of The Skies as the expedition leader and also as a meteorologist.

The plan was to fly from Florida to California, looking at the science of the skies.

But as well as scientists, there were plenty of other people on the team including three pilots, a ground crew of 14 that followed the airship by road and a full production team including two camera crews. Not everyone could be on board at once – the airship would never have got off the ground!

But I was really fortunate to spend a lot of time on board and flew most of the way across the continent.

Exploring in three dimensions rather than being limited to making observations from the ground was a revelation to me.

The clouds in the tropics around the Gulf of Mexico are huge, and being in the sky with them really brought home the vast scale of the forces at work.

Towering cumulus cloud in Florida.
Towering cumulus cloud in Florida.

We were able to travel over, under and through these monsters, revealing that clouds are about as far from the popular image of light and fluffy floating puffs of cotton wool as you can get! They are dense and heavy and full of destructive energy.

I remember looking down at the cloud layer from a plane as a child, and daydreaming about exploring this new world of unknown places, so I was very excited the first time we flew straight through a cloud.

I leaned out of the airship as far as I dared into the heart of a cloud and found that it was a dark, damp mass of floating fog (of course!) – no mysterious worlds – my childhood fantasies were crushed!

There’s more to read on her blog as well as some stupendous photographs of clouds.

So if this gives you a thrill then don’t delay in watching the full-length Episode One on YouTube before it gets taken down. (Warning: if you watch the opening first few minutes you will be hooked for the full hour!)

Now to close with, yes you guessed it, my final ‘clue’ from Oregon.

Beautiful Oregon dawn.
Beautiful Oregon dawn.

We live on the most beautiful planet!

3 thoughts on “The clouds above us.

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