Home Science Environment Clouds That Resemble Ocean Waves

Clouds That Resemble Ocean Waves

Cloud formations can sometimes share a resemblance to some objects in the world. Kelvin-Helmholtz clouds are one such type of cloud — they look like ocean waves. These are named after two 19th century scientists who devoted their time to learning about the beautiful clouds.

Wave clouds

The two scientists, Hermann von Helmholtz and Lord Kelvin, studied how a small disturbance introduced at the boundary of two fluids of varying densities would affect the dynamics between them. This phenomenon is not just applicable to clouds but also to the Sun’s corona, Jupiter’s red spot, Saturn’s rings, and so on.

In the sky, the phenomenon ends up generating clouds that look like waves breaking in the ocean. “These clouds are formed between two layers of air with different densities and traveling at different speeds. If a warm, less dense layer of air exists over a layer of colder, denser air, and the wind shear across the two layers is strong enough, eddies will develop along the boundary. Evaporation and condensation of the eddies render them visible as wave shaped clouds,” according to Amusing Planet.

Clouds that look like waves.
The clouds are formed between two layers of air with different densities and traveling at different speeds. (Image: Noel Feans via flickr CC BY 2.0 )

These types of clouds are more likely to appear in the presence of windy conditions since there will be variance among the densities of air. They are seen as an excellent indicator of atmospheric instability. For aircraft, these clouds are an early warning about turbulence.

The atmospheric environment created by Kelvin-Helmholtz clouds has inspired artists throughout human history. The best example would be Vincent van Gogh who is believed to have painted his masterpiece The Starry Night after being inspired by Kelvin-Helmholtz clouds.

Interesting cloud formations

Mackerel sky

This type of cloud pattern is so named because of its resemblance to the mackerel’s striped scale pattern. Made up of cirrus clouds, they are formed rather high in the sky. Cirrus mackerel clouds often indicate the presence of warm winds flowing out from a faraway thunderstorm. The ripple-like appearance occurs due to the cool air resisting the motion of the humid air trying to get past it.

Roll Clouds

These are one of the rarest types of clouds that you will ever see. Technically, they are known as “arcus” clouds and are often linked to thunderstorms. The rolling appearance of the clouds comes about due to the horizontal vorticity of the air masses as well as the shearing effects.

Lenticular clouds

You will mostly find these clouds near mountains where the air moves from the ground upwards and ends up being condensed. They kind of look like pancakes and continue to remain at a single place for several hours. Some people tend to mistake lenticular clouds for UFOs.

A lenticular cloud covers Mayon Volcano in the Philippines.
Some people tend to mistake lenticular clouds for UFOs. (Image: Patryk Reba via wikimedia CC BY-SA 4.0)


This is a rather new type of cloud classification, only officially recognized in 2015. These cloud formations look like chaotic, dark waves that swirl in a disorderly manner in the sky. Asperitas clouds are mostly found in the North American plains, closely following thunderstorms.

Shelf Clouds

These clouds tend to form at the front edges of intense thunderstorms. The moist air from the storm collides with the warm humid air mass, triggering condensation to occur in a slanted, upward slope.

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Vision Times Staff
Vision Times is a kaleidoscopic view into the most interesting stories on the web. We also have a special talent for China stories — read About Us to find out why. Vision Times. Fascinating stuff.

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