Tag Archives: atmosphere

Chemtrails conspiracy theory gets debunked

Contrails or ‘chemtrails’? The myth has just been debunked

Since 1996, there has existed a niche group of conspiracy theorists in western countries that believes that the government (or some other authority) is spraying compounds out the back of commercial/military aircraft for a plethora of reasons. Seventeen percent of Americans believe a hilariously-named “SLAP” project (secret large-scale atmospheric program) exists in the United States, and 2% are ‘certain’ of its existence. Conspiracy theorists photograph normal aeroplane contrails and upload them to the internet, calling them ‘chemtrails’, and using them as evidence of SLAP.

The conspiracy theorists cite “mind control”, “radar mapping”, and “chemical weapons testing” among suspected motives, and they even have detected elevated concentrations of barium and aluminium in soil and atmosphere at certain locations. Conspiracy theorists use these chemical data to support their belief in the SLAP idea.

Just this month, the results of a comprehensive review of all the so-called evidence for contrails was conducted – by an impressive 77 experts in atmospheric chemistry – and they’ve concluded that the conspiracy theory seems highly unlikely to be true.

First, what are contrails?

Contrails are ice-clouds that emerge from the backs of jet engines on aeroplanes. They vary in width, colour and persistence depending on the temperature, air pressure and humidity.

Combustion in jet engines produces two products: water vapour, H2O(g), and carbon dioxide, CO2(g). These gases exit the jet engine and quickly lose momentum, eventually forming a trail in the air behind the aeroplane. The freezing cold temperatures at aeroplane altitudes freezes the water vapour in its tracks (but not the carbon dioxide – it’s not that cold!). A contrail is essentially a trail of snowflakes!

What did the scientists find?

Seventy-seven experts found 100% agreement that SLAP was not the simplest/most likely explanation for the following phenomena:

Source: http://www.ess.uci.edu/~sjdavis/SLAP/

Why am I mentioning this?

The ‘chemtrails’ conspiracy emerged as one of the most recent forms of chemophobia. It originated in 1996 when a paper was published by the United States Air Force called Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning the Weather in 2025 suggested spraying compounds from aeroplanes to help engineer the climate. This seeded the conspiracy, and ebbing public trust of experts/scientists helped it to balloon out of proportion from there.

Until this study was conducted, the scientific community had no credible evidence to the contrary: we had no rebuttal to offer the ‘chemtrails’ crowd. This study finally puts the overwhelming majority of evidence (and 76 of the 77 experts involved) in favour of there being no such SLAP project – and no ‘chemtrails’ to speak of.


It’s widespread, irrational, harmful, and hard to break. One excerpt from a New York Times article on this story said:

“The goal, the researchers say, is not so much to change the minds of hard-core believers, but to provide a rebuttal — the kind that would show up in a Google search — to persuade other people to steer clear of this idea.”

This study, it seems, is aimed at the neutral 60%. This is exactly how we need to be fighting chemophobia.

Question: Have similar studies been conducted for the other forms of chemophobia that exist?

Book: The Dance of Air & Sea

The Dance of Air & Sea
Only a book this good deserves Helvetica (probably the most beautiful font).

Beautiful. Thematically, like Nocturne for the oceans. Stylistically unparalleled.
288 pages, ★★★★★

It’s a pleasure to read, “we’re all super-interconnected” in a climatology book, especially when most other books are clinging to Al Gore’s domesday-and-guilt formula. Cool It! avoided that spin very successfully, but even that [four-star] book lacked the depth of this one. The Dance of Air & Sea excels in its field: not only is it rational and well-referenced, but it’s also interlaced with stories, history and wisdom. This book is full of stories that other people will be interested to hear.

The Dance of Air & Sea is far more knowledge-rich than its moon-based counterpart, Nocturne. This book’s author, Arnold H. Taylor, has been an oceanography professor for 30 years at Plymouth Marine Laboratory—arguably the best place in the world for ocean research—and is thus perfectly suited to write this book. He is a well-read, high-level academic, which makes every sentence interesting either culturally or scientifically. Reading this, I made a lot of notes.

Some interesting snippets from this book include:

Page 32: containers of floating, plastic toys were spilled into the ocean and tracked by satellite to monitor ocean currents

Page 58: trawler-fishing is a double-edged sword: predators are harmed more than prey, allowing the prey population (usually the stuff we eat) to grow stronger in the long-term.

Page 100: oceanic chlorophyll cools the oceans by up to 1°C. Lose the chlorophyll, and the ocean warms up!

Page 130: oceans are remarkably interconnected: when there’s high pressure in the Pacific Ocean or the Azores, for example, we can expect low pressure in the Indian Ocean or in Iceland at the same time—pressures behave rather like a giant, atmospheric see-saw.

And much more…

Readers who enjoy Bill Bryson and Stephen Fry will love this book: it goes much further academically, but retains the relaxed, knowledge-rich tone that both Bryson and Fry also possess. Definitely five stars for this book. Now, I want to find a book like this about Chemistry. ★★★★★