It's a day that many avid cloudwatchers have been waiting for: an updated, digitized edition of the International Cloud Atlas will now available for the first time, just in time for World Meteorological Day today. This latest edition of the atlas -- a rare update since the last one in 1987 -- will include eleven new cloud classifications, such as the volutus, or roll cloud, as well as the asperitas cloud (formerly known as the (formerly known as Undulatus asperatus), which look wave-like in shape.
Other new classifications include the flumen, alternatively known as a "beaver's tail", as well as designated "special clouds" with names like "cataractagenitus", "flammagenitus", "homogenitus" and "silvagenitus". (Update: and yes, the revised atlas includes "clouds from human activities such as the contrail, a vapour trail sometimes produced by airplanes."
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the intergovernmental organization that aims to develop international cooperation on matters of meteorology, hydrology and climate, has been releasing these cloud atlases every few decades since 1896. It has been traditionally used as a comprehensive reference for the public, but also a training tool for professionals working in meteorology, aviation and shipping. But today's digitized version will also help spread awareness about clouds and the role they play in a changing climate, says WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas:
If we want to forecast weather we have to understand clouds. If we want to model the climate system we have to understand clouds. And if we want to predict the availability of water resources, we have to understand clouds.
What's significant this time around is the role of citizen cloud-spotters in getting these new clouds included, mounting what some called "concerted, multi-year [cloud] lobbying campaigns". For instance, some of the 43,000 members of the Cloud Appreciation Society have been working to get asperitas clouds officially recognized since 2006.
The success of the CAS' efforts has largely to do with some of the new technologies now available. Most notable are the widespread use of smartphones, equipped with apps like Cloudspotter, which has allowed amateur cloud observers and scientists alike from around the world to collectively document, share and discuss almost 280,000 cloud images of new types such as the asperitas. As CAS founder Gavin Pretor-Pinney tells Mashable:
I wasn’t ever really expecting the new classification of cloud to really become a newly classified cloud under the WMO. [But] the important thing... is that [the Cloudspotter app] gave us a great body of examples of the asperitas formation, taken in different places around the world.
The release of this new atlas includes an abundance of data that simply wasn't possible to collect a few decades ago. Data was gathered from not only surface observations, but also from space and from remote sensing machines. As David Keating notes over at Deutsche Welle, it's vital that we understand clouds much better than we do now:
[Clouds] are important to the weather we experience. What we don't know is how their behavior will change as the Earth's atmosphere gets warmer. [..] Researchers hope to use the new data contained in the atlas to focus on four initiatives aimed at doubling the knowledge of how clouds behave within the next five to 10 years.
No doubt a new, improved and digitized cloud atlas will do much to spur on a greater understanding. You can watch a video below from MIT's Cziczo Lab where Dr. Cziczo explains in further detail the importance of clouds in the science of climate change, and you can find out more about the International Cloud Atlas over at the World Meteorological Organization or find the new atlas in its entirety here.