Sinister Skies: Are jet contrails more than they seem?
Beck, Scientology's strangest poster boy, has a new song about chemical trails in the sky that may add to the number of fans writing him off as a religious wacko-conspiracy theorist. But the idea isn't too out there for many other individuals who seriously wonder if the fluffy white streaks, long believed to be the harmless emissions of jet engines, are more than just water vapor and ice crystals. Len Greenwood and Rosalind Peterson are among those who believe jets are releasing harmful chemicals into the atmosphere for weather modification or other purposes.
"You start seeing cloud formations that just aren't natural," says Greenwood, a photography teacher at Santa Rosa's Montgomery High School. "Or you start seeing clouds when the meteorologist is saying it's going to be a clear day."
But how does one know for sure just what is or isn't natural? After all, the jets are way up there and we're stuck on the ground. Normal trails, also called "contrails" (short for "condensation trails"), form when the hot, humid air from jet-engine exhaust combines with the cold low-pressure air in the environment. They can dissipate quickly or spread out into an extensive thin cirrus layer depending on wind velocity and humidity. Those that pass through extremely humid skies and take much longer to dissipate are called "persistent" contrails.
But for Peterson and Greenwood, some contrails last too long for comfort. "Normal contrails will most of the time dissipate within 30 seconds to a couple of minutes," Greenwood says. "They're gone. It's ice crystals; it's water vapor. It's evaporating in the atmosphere."
Peterson worked as an agricultural technologist for Mendocino County's Department of Agriculture before hiring on with the USDA. There, she embarked on an study of contrails after a co-worker pointed out curious-looking jet plumes in the sky.
"I knew it wasn't normal. I hadn't seen anything like it," she says. "That was when I first decided to see what was going on. It carried me into finding out what was coming down from those jets."
During her research, Peterson found records showing spikes of a dozen or so chemicals--among them barium, aluminum, manganese, magnesium, lead, iron and titanium--in the water supplies of several California counties. "Water systems in the various counties were showing similar types of spiking. And in most systems they spike at the same time. The only way you would have this type of spiking is if it were airborne," she says.
Peterson, who has a degree from Sonoma State University in environmental studies and planning, believes the chemicals are falling down from the contrails, which are the products of weather-modification experiments. These experiments, she says, are going on unmonitored by the government, even though the chemicals' harmful effects are fully known.
Weather-modification attempts to control rainfall, decrease hail damage or clear fog, among other goals, are indeed going on in nearly every country in the world. Notably, China took action to suppress rain over the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The extent to which these efforts are effective, however, is largely questioned.
"It is nearly impossible to prove whether they work or not, since one usually can't predict what would have happened if the 'modification' had not been performed," says Charles Knight, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
Peterson believes these practices have implications that are more serious than anyone could ever imagine. "They want to do these atmospheric experiments; they want to modify the weather, and if they can do that it furthers their careers," she charges.
Dan Breed, a project scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, says, "I know of no scientific basis for weather modification-experimentation that might result from contrails showing the release of chemicals by jets. " Breed says there are virtually no harmful effects from the chemicals used in cloud seeding. "The types of aerosol particles that are used for cloud seeding are submicron-sized--thinner than the hair on your head," he says. "They have negligible fall velocities and the quantities typically used are imperceptible and unmeasurable on the ground. If released from high altitude, dispersion would further dilute any possible effect on the ground."
But Peterson believes information is being withheld. "If we were to know what they were doing, we'd tell them to stop. As long as they can do it under the radar screen essentially, people think that nothing is going on, that everything they see is normal," she says. "Once you realize and get to the bottom of it, you see that it may not be normal and it may not be good for us."