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Ship Tracks off Europes Atlantic Coast
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Ship Tracks off Europe’s Atlantic Coast

September 9, 2003
An unusually high number of ship tracks were visible in the clouds off of the coasts of France and Spain in these true- and false-color images from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Aqua satellite on January 27, 2003. Ship tracks form when very small, airborne particles emitted in the exhaust of large ships (and airplanes) attract water molecules, acting as seeds for clouds. These seeds are called cloud condensation nuclei. Continued accumulation of droplets on the cloud condensation nuclei forms the thin, streaky clouds pictured in these images. As the ships moved about the East Atlantic, they left a visible, though impermanent, record of where they have recently been. Generally speaking, the faster the ship, the narrower, longer, and less diffuse the ship track will be. Slower ships will leave shorter, wider, and more diffuse ship tracks. Ship tracks often reflect the direction and speed of the wind as much as the direction and speed of the ship.


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