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FEATURE ARTICLE

The Useful Pursuit of Shadows

The study of clouds has profoundly influenced science and human culture and stands poised to lead climate science forward again

Graeme Stephens

Figure 1. Clouds were first describedClick to Enlarge Image

Over the two centuries since a London pharmacist, Luke Howard, created the classification system for clouds that remains in use today, cloud science has moved from verbal and visual description to numerical prediction. Meteorologist Stephens argues, however, that profound source of inspiration and creativity has been lost with the reduction of clouds to abstract fields of water mass represented by bits and bytes. Stripped of its sense of culture, atmospheric science has more than physics to face in moving from the era of local prediction to one of understanding airborne water's role in climate on a grand scale.


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