Basic Cloud Types

Antarctic MountainsWith 98% of its surface covered with various forms of snow and ice, it's no wonder that the continent of Antarctica attracts "cold weather" scientists from all over the world. Basically, Antarctica is a snow and ice "factory" with ice depths on the Polar Plateau reaching 15,000 feet (the continent's average ice thickness is 7,000 feet). Thus, one of Antarctica's most important resources is its ice. It is said that Antarctica's ice accounts for 70% of the world's fresh water. Some people have considered towing icebergs from Antarctica to parts of the world in need of fresh water.

As strange as it sounds, however, Antarctica is essentially a desert. The average yearly total precipitation is about two inches. So, where did all this snow and ice come from? The answer lies in Antarctica's unique location at the bottom of the world and the unique weather conditions that exist there.

Three Main Types of Clouds

Thin, white feathery or wispy clouds, usually separated or detached. Highest of all clouds in tropopause, they form at 30,000 feet or more in the sky. They are composed primarily of ice crystals.

Flat-based, billowing clouds with vertical doming. Often the top of cumulus clouds have a "cauliflower-like" appearance. Cumulus clouds are most prominent during the summer months.

Thin, layered clouds, often occurring as continuous or rippled sheets which cover large portions of the sky. Stratus clouds are frequently gray and thick.


Other common cloud types

Antarctic Clouds

  • Cirrostratus clouds are high, thin clouds that have a milky-white appearance.
  • Cirrocumulus clouds are delicate clouds appearing in bands or ripples.
  • Altostratus clouds are blue-gray or whitish in color. They are thinner and higher than stratus clouds and are formed by water and ice particles.
  • Altocumulus clouds are mid-altitude "cottony-like" clouds, often oval or elliptical in shape, with gray undersides.
  • Nimbostratus clouds are dark gray clouds often associated with steady precipitation. They occur in thick, continuous layers.
  • Stratocumulus clouds often occur as dark, heavy rolls which form in bands or columns across the sky.
  • Cumulonimbus clouds are taller, towering versions of cumulus clouds, which are often associated with thunderstorms. Their height can range from two to five miles.