Close

While NASA researchers are still waiting for the initial readings from their newest mission, the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission which plans to give researchers and farmers vital information about the moisture of any given soil on the face of the Earth, another mission has its sights set on the seas this week. Releasing a new image courtesy of the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA's Aqua satellite, researchers at the space agency reveal that while all may seem calm below, the clouds above the Bering Sea tell a tale much more interesting than the waters it hides.

"Ice, wind, cold temperatures and ocean waters combined to created dramatic cloud formations over the Bering Sea in late January, 2015" NASA spokespersons say. "Over the dark water bright white clouds line in up close, parallel rows. These formations are known as 'cloud streets'."

Creating parallel cylinders of spinning air, the winds blowing over the cold, arid lands of nearby Russia and Alaska combine on the upper edge of the cylinders to develop rising clouds. The parallel rows, resembling "cloud streets", can be attributed to varying regions of rising and descending cold air. And while the clouds may form over the frozen sea ice, the moisture above the Bering Sea allows the clouds to primarily hang over the open ocean. 

Want to know what the direction of the streets means to researchers? Well, as the strength and direction of wind helps develop the features of these "cloud streets", researchers find that the answers to many of their questions are found set in the images the captured from NASA's Aqua satellite.

"The streets are neat and in tight rows closest to land, while further over the Bering Sea the pattern widens and begins to become more random" NASA spokespersons say. "The clouds align with the wind direction, so the direction of the streets gives us strong clues to prevailing wind direction [and other questions we might have about atmospheric conditions]."