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Is anyone investigating the pros and cons of chem trails?
December 11, 2010 10:09 AM   Subscribe

Has anyone investigated chem trails? Is there any scientific experiential input about their purpose and effects on us? We are deeply worried because they are unexplained, potentially hazardous, unauthorized by the people and very worrisome. Is there anyone conducting serious independent investigations into these chem trails? We live in L.A. and have just noticed within the past two weeks our skies crisscrossed with milky white trails everywhere in the morning that disperse and form a cloud cover later in the day. This observation has sparked an increased awareness and deep concern.
posted by zagyzebra to Science & Nature (34 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
You've read the wikipedia page, right? "Chemtrails" sounds like bullshit; that is, nothing you should be worried about.
posted by beerbajay at 10:16 AM on December 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


There is no such thing as chem trails. It's condensation from jet engines when flying at high alititude/low temp. This article has a good run down, with references.
posted by auto-correct at 10:16 AM on December 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


There are no chemtrails. They're just a combination of contrails and paranoia.
posted by griphus at 10:18 AM on December 11, 2010 [11 favorites]


They're not "chemtrails", they're contrails -- condensation trails. They're just condensed water vapor emitted by the engines of planes flying at high altitudes. They're not potentially hazardous and they're not something that would be subject to authorization any more than the exhaust that a car engine produces would be. See here and here (PDF) for more information.
posted by neushoorn at 10:18 AM on December 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


The world's smartest human says chemtrails are mostly bunk. It seems there might be some negative effect due to the extra cloud cover but it would be meteorological in nature, not chemical.
posted by Dr Dracator at 10:19 AM on December 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


We always called them contrails.
It seems like there are some conspiracy theorists out there, but contrails are not unexplained. To the contrary, they are very well explained, although their effect on weather and climate change is being looked at. Just like car exhaust is being looked at. And factories, and power plants.

Nova did a piece on them.

If you are noticing more trails recently, it has to do with the weather conditions, not an increase in man-made activity.
posted by SLC Mom at 10:23 AM on December 11, 2010


Also, you've probably been noticing them more recently since it's getting in to winter. Contrails form when the air is under -40 degrees, and during the winter this temperature will be reached at a lower altitude than in the summer. Thus more planes flying high enough over the city to form contrails.
posted by auto-correct at 10:25 AM on December 11, 2010


As a rule, the more exciting and dramatic a theory would be if it were true, the higher you should raise your eyebrows when you are told that theory. The trails you are seeing consist of water.
posted by foursentences at 10:34 AM on December 11, 2010 [6 favorites]


After 9/11, when air traffic was grounded in the US, scientists got to do some unusually good data gathering w/r/t contrails and their effects. Nothing super-scary has come out of that, though.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:45 AM on December 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


There was a controlled house burn last week in Escondido covered by the LA Times. Some chap with lots of explosives. Perhaps you are seeing that amidst the smog?
posted by effluvia at 10:47 AM on December 11, 2010


It is a conspiracy theory, and if we think about it a little bit, we can see some big issues with it. Let's assume that contrails are really chemtrails and see how much chemicals would be required.

In the United States, commercial aircraft fly a lot. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 6.9 billion miles per year. Let's say that chemtrails were true, and airplanes sprayed 1 gallon per mile when they were "spraying" that works out to about .025 ounces per foot, which isn't much liquid to be visible from the ground, so it seems a low estimate. Obviously, we don't see the trails all the time, so assume that they are "sprayed" half the time.

That means that 50% of 6,900,000,000 miles at 1 gallon per mile is 3,450,000,000 gallons of "spray" per year.

Now let's put that in context. According to the USDA, the US produces about 189,000,000 pounds of milk per year. At 8.6 pounds per gallon, that is about 22,000,000 gallons of milk per year. This means that the "spray" industry, in terms of production and transport of whatever is being "sprayed" is about 157 times as large as the US milk industry.

Alternatively, the US uses 378,000,000 gallons of gasoline per day. This is about 138 billion gallons per year, so the "spray" industry would be about 3% the size of the entire gasoline industry.

How would you go about keeping such a large industry a secret? There would be tens of thousands of people making, storing, delivering, and then filling the planes. There would be huge facilities dedicated to production. Someone would need to be building the facilities and paying the people - the cost would be huge. And all of those people would have to keep it a secret. How could you do that?

Doesn't it make better sense that instead of thousands of secret workers and billions of dollars in secret costs, that maybe the idea that it is condensation from a warm engine in cold air, just like your breath fogging on a cold day, is the root cause?

Of course, maybe I am just part of the conspiracy.
posted by procrastination at 11:03 AM on December 11, 2010 [54 favorites]


How long have you lived in LA, zagyzebra? How close are you, to the beach?

Could this be your first California winter?

It's true that the morning clouds and fog usually burn off by mid-day, but once the rains begin this familiar weather pattern changes, until the return of Spring.
posted by Rash at 11:27 AM on December 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


The reason they look like a criss cross pattern is because air traffic flies the same path somewhat regularly, but the atmosphere moves. So if the atmosphere is inclined to maintain the contrails for a long time, you can see it appear to move.

Also, do the math on the volume of the atmosphere. It is REALLY big. It is pretty much impossible to do what "they" are purported to be doing.

Silly question: what sparked your curiosity? How did you learn the word chemtrails? I'm betting it was either a nut trying to scare you, or a conspiracy website? Because your question contains a ton of assumptions.
posted by gjc at 11:57 AM on December 11, 2010


Is there anyone conducting serious independent investigations into these chem trails?

The weather geeks at the NZ metservice are very interested in contrails (which is the correct name) and are happy to provide full, scientific explanations for them. They aren't 'serious investigations' exactly because these are actually very easily explained phenomena, not some scary, unknown thing, and they are most definitely not "unexplained, potentially hazardous, unauthorized by the people and very worrisome". The blog post I linked above goes to the effort of tracking down which exact flights caused those particular trials, something which could be done for any set you happen to see if you had the right resources and took the time to do so.

The reason you're seeing more of them now is to do with your weather patterns. And your local meteorological service or equivalent is probably the place to go if you want more specific details or further reassurance.
posted by shelleycat at 11:59 AM on December 11, 2010


They're just condensed water vapor emitted by the engines of planes flying at high altitudes.

As an analogy: on a cold day, a car's exhaust pipe or a dryer vent will emit billowing clouds of "steam": warm, water-vapor-laden air that's let out into cold air will condense out white clouds. The main components of jet exhaust are carbon dioxide and water vapor.

There's also sometimes condensation in the low pressure area inside a wingtip vortex— if the humidity/temperature are just on the edge of cloud formation, the wingtip vortex can produce a streamer of cloud. I think this phenomenon is more common at lower altitudes, though. You see it a lot at airshows.
posted by hattifattener at 12:55 PM on December 11, 2010


OP is correct! After a short break, spraying has begun once again in earnest above Los Angeles.

Umm. I have no idea what it's really about, but we watch the process with fascination from time to time. Damn annoying. The most common pattern you will see above LA are solid criss-crossed lines in the early early morning. By mid-morning it will have spread into a thick haze that is (almost, but not quite) indistinguishable from regular smog.

Funny thing is, the criss cross pattern is so obvious sometimes before it diffuses, it amazes me more folks don't talk about it more. In fact, we were just wondering about this within the last few days as we watched 2 high altitude planes lay down trails. Thanks OP! I'm pretty pleased to see this question today.

I think the 2 most prevalent theories have to do with "weather control" and some sort of radar program. Folks have supposedly measured the composition of the trails and they contain harmful heavy metals and other chemicals, but I have no direct data on that. I think there is a related theory that says the spray helps Haarp do its thing. Who knows.

Here at Casa Jbenben, we mainly focus on when they are (or are not) spraying in our area in LA since we often notice the phenomenom during morning hikes. An official acknowledgement or explanation regarding what the program is about would be nice because it is getting hard to ignore lately.

Here is a somewhat famous clip from Youtube of a weatherman acknowledging the practice of the military spraying the atmosphere during a weather report.

These pics were taken by us through the windshield of our car earlier this year above Sunset Blvd in West Hollywood on the Friday before the Oscar's (which is basically the same neighborhood where the Oscar's are presented.) We only snapped the pics because the trails were super unusual that day - very straight lines, closer than normal to the ground, and they were being laid down in the late-afternoon instead of the morning. 2 days later, just before the Oscar's started, there was a violent-but-brief rain and hail storm in the area. I'm sure it was all coincidence! FWIW, ever since that incident, we always "joke" about weather control as the purpose for the trails. Again, who knows.

I have no answers, but I concur something is being sprayed above LA fairly regularly. Good luck on your hunt for info.


upon preview - contrails and chemtrails are definitely not the same thing. We notice the difference between them all the time, being situated between 4 heavy use airports (LAX, Burbank, Santa Monica, and Van Nuys.) Also, if you watch a high altitude plane above laying down chemtrails (heavier, puffier and much longer and longer lasting in the atmosphere than contrails) the planes usually head south when they run out of spray. Not saying there aren't similarities between contrails and chemtrails. However, after watching this whole thing for a long time now, and how the same 1 or 2 high altitude planes will go back and forth all morning and then return to the south - it's hard to confuse the trail signatures left by those planes over LA with commercial aircraft.



PS - my dad, two of his brother's, and my grandfather are all pilots. My dad used to make us listen to air traffic control on car trips and he would point out which planes above were communicating with air traffic control as we listened. Growing up, we were subjected to all sorts of discussions about weather and clouds, what was happening at what altitude, and how to read the sky. I'm 100% sure that what I've been noticing consistently above LA since about 2005 is not anything I have ever seen before. When you see 1 or 2 planes spend an entire morning laying down a grid over your neighborhood, and you see that quite a few times... gets hard to dismiss. All this said, the only time I ever took snaps of the grid-thing was that one time over Sunset Blvd just before the Oscar's. I'm not a nut, just someone waiting for an official acknowledgement one day regarding this very very obvious practice. Thanks for reading.
posted by jbenben at 1:16 PM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oops. I didn't mean to imply that all chemtrail planes (or whatever you want to call them!) head back to the south after spraying. We've just noticed over the past couple of years that the ones over LA fly back south when they run out of spray.

You can get a pretty good view of this happening from Runyon or the Mt Hollywood trail above the Griffith Observatory. Otherwise, you can easily lose sight of the planes behind buildings or hills as they do what they do.
posted by jbenben at 1:27 PM on December 11, 2010


After a short break, spraying has begun once again in earnest above Los Angeles.

Perhaps this "short break" was the length of a Los Angeles summer, or the few weeks of heat wave y'all experienced this fall? Perhaps these chemtrails mysteriously only occur during weather that's conducive to contrails? Quite devious of "Them"!

We only snapped the pics because the trails were super unusual that day - very straight lines, closer than normal to the ground, and they were being laid down in the late-afternoon instead of the morning.

Those are pictures of contrails. There's nothing unusual about them. I suspect it was a colder-than-usual day.

and how the same 1 or 2 high altitude planes will go back and forth all morning

Are you claiming that you can identify a high-altitude plane well enough to tell if the same plane is passing over head vs. several different planes? I work just a few blocks north of Lackland AFB here in San Antonio, and I can not identify one C-130 landing overhead from the next one, even with 4 years of practice. And those guys are dropping their landing gear literally right outside my office window. I don't even know how I'd be able to identify them at any sort of altitude.
posted by muddgirl at 1:39 PM on December 11, 2010 [6 favorites]


Here is a somewhat famous clip from Youtube of a weatherman acknowledging the practice of the military spraying the atmosphere during a weather report.

No, it isn't. He was talking about something completely different. Chaff is something a plane drops to confuse the missiles headed for it. You don't salt the skies with it just in case.

When you see 1 or 2 planes spend an entire morning laying down a grid over your neighborhood, and you see that quite a few times... gets hard to dismiss.

Uh, two things. Do you actually see the planes turning around? Are you sure you aren't seeing an commercial aircraft holding pattern? Or military training?

Please feel free to post video of this happening.
posted by gjc at 1:44 PM on December 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Here is a somewhat famous clip from Youtube of a weatherman acknowledging the practice of the military spraying the atmosphere

He's actually claiming the clouds on the radar image are chaff.

Although, unlike this weatherman, I was never in the marines, spending my formative years playing F-19 Stealth Fighter taught me chaff is a relatively short burst of reflecting particles a plane will release to mess with enemy radar when under threat, which you need to squint pretty hard at to interpret as "spraying the atmoshpere".
posted by Dr Dracator at 1:45 PM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Forgot to mention: those are contrails. The same thing happens all over the world, whether there is a gala event that night or not.

They appear on different occasions because they only happen where the air is cold enough that the jet exhaust freezes and still enough that the wind doesn't blow them around. They look "lower" in the sky because they are bigger, because when the atmosphere is very cold and very still like that, they can last a long time.
posted by gjc at 1:50 PM on December 11, 2010


To make it even less mysterious, chaff is basically aluminized tape. Not far from a shiny-silver mylar balloon. I used to keep a roll of the stuff on my desk.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:02 PM on December 11, 2010


"I'm not a nut, just someone waiting for an official acknowledgement one day regarding this very very obvious practice." Thank you for that assurance, because from what you wrote, I would never have known. Between the four major airports surrounding the L.A. Basin, there are thousands of flights in and out each day. Not only do they fly similar routes, they fly at similar altitudes in similar weather conditions that lead to condensation (so-called contrails). I was a pilot, my father was an investigator for the FAA and we saw these trails over basin in the 1940s before jet travel was prevalent. Your grandfather pilot would have seen them back in the day as well. Since I moved to Tennessee, I see them daily as flights out of Atlanta cross our property headed to the Mid-west. Since these planes are flying above 10,000 feet when they pass over my head, I cannot identify each and every one and, I'm guessing, you can't identify each plane that passes over you at that altitude either.

When you see something you don't understand, don't immediately think of the worst possible thing that it could be. Look up Occam's Razor.
posted by Old Geezer at 2:20 PM on December 11, 2010 [8 favorites]


Yeah, merely condensation of aircraft exhaust. Nothing to see here.

(though I have had someone once claim I was working for the CIA by installing wind farms, since they were clearly there to mix in the mind-control chemicals at low altitudes, since rural people were "less medicated" and thus less susceptible to chemtrails than city folk.)
posted by scruss at 2:45 PM on December 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


While contrails are quite well explained, it's accurate to say that planes produce quite a bit of air pollution. While it's not quite chemtrails, it's a visible reminder of damage done to the air we breathe. Perhaps you'd like to put your effort into local groups working on air quality issues. This is not snark, air quality is important, and you can make a difference.
posted by theora55 at 3:04 PM on December 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


These are not regular contrails. Regular contrails usually happen at higher altitudes and disperse from visibility within minutes. I have seen these "chemtrails" being laid down. I'm not saying it's a conspiracy, and I think the term chemtrail is loaded with tin-foil hat baggage, but it's hard to ignore, when like jbenben, you see a couple of planes going back and forth in the air for an hour or two, laying down thick and puffy trails in the sky that end up dispersing into wispy clouds. It was going on yesterday here in the LA area, and the wispy clouds are still around.

It's just plain weird. I want to know what's going on, but don't really find the conspiracy stuff credible. Nonetheless, this is a somewhat new phenomenon. I remember seeing contrails as a kid, but never these low-lying, thick, puffy trails that end up mixing into a milky wispy cloud cover.
posted by malapropist at 3:33 PM on December 11, 2010


"When you see 1 or 2 planes spend an entire morning laying down a grid over your neighborhood, and you see that quite a few times... gets hard to dismiss."

"Uh, two things. Do you actually see the planes turning around? Are you sure you aren't seeing an commercial aircraft holding pattern? Or military training?"

I used to live within a few miles of a military airbase and we saw this ALL THE TIME when they were training, especially on Saturday mornings, early, before the commercial air traffic picked up.

When we were super-lucky, we got to see the stealth bomber!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:25 PM on December 11, 2010


I grew up next to Ellington Air Force Base in Houston and saw this phenomenon often, like Eyebrows McGee said. I've never heard the term chemtrails before.
posted by vincele at 5:06 PM on December 11, 2010


How would you go about keeping such a large industry a secret?

Put it mostly underground. Probably under a bunch of scruss's windfarms.



Personally, I blame The X Files. Having David Duchovny appear on screen week after week with his little brow all furrowed with worry has helped make ill-informed conspiracy speculation so much less unfashionable. AND it's a 20th Century Fox production, so it's clearly designed to distract people from what's really going on.
posted by flabdablet at 7:06 PM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


If "they" want to spray you, they'll just make up some new type of pest problem, name it something ridiculous like "Mediterranean Fruit Fly," fly squadrons of helicopters in formation over you, and fucking spray you. No need to be secretive.
posted by ctmf at 7:47 PM on December 11, 2010 [9 favorites]


flabdablet's got it.
posted by intermod at 8:43 PM on December 11, 2010


Explanations

Grid patterns: Aircraft have different destinations. They often fly in paths perpendicular to others. They will cross a few times, especially near airports. There's your grid. If they didn't create grids, you'd see neat rows, which would also look orderly and indicate some kind of spraying operation. Your eye is trained to see patterns, so anything ends up looking like a pattern.

Trails giving rise to clouds instead of dispersing: Contrails can do this. So can powerplants with steam cooling towers. Clouds are condensed water vapor. Where did you hear that contrails cannot create clouds? That's like saying condensation cannot create clouds (i.e. condensation doesn't exist).

Chemtrails are at low altitudes: You can't judge long distances accurately with the naked eye. The trails are appearing at high altitudes.

Pros of chemtrails: Fun to talk about.
Cons of chemtrails: They're imaginary :/
posted by mnemonic at 4:20 PM on December 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Here's the claim under consideration, in its most basic form:

"At least some of the objects that are commonly called 'contrails' are in fact chemical sprays, systematically and secretly distributed by the government or some other agency".

Let's assume, for the moment, that no one has investigated this claim.

That means that there exists no evidence for or against the claim, and there is therefore no reason to believe it.

Unexplained? Hardly. Contrails are very well understood phenomena. It's possible, of course, that you're observing something other than contrails. But until you can demonstrate that—with some kind of concrete evidence, not just a suspicion or hunch—there's nothing to explain. What is the evidence that these formations are not ordinary contrails?

Potentially hazardous and unauthorized by the people? These statements come with the built-in assumption that the alleged contrail-like-but-not-actually-contrail objects exist in the first place. It's a bit premature to speculate about the properties of an object before that object has been shown to exist.

Very worrisome? That's subjective. Clearly, the idea is worrisome to you. Personally, I worry more about being kidnapped by Nazi time travelers than chemtrails.

Does that mean that the claim shouldn't be investigated? Not necessarily. Because research time and dollars are finite, and casual observation doesn't suggest the least thing out of the ordinary, it probably ranks lower on the priority list than research on Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster (phenomena for which there is at least some evidence, however dubious)—but it's a legitimate scientific question.

I'd suggest that you design and conduct a study of your own, if you're that concerned about it, but frankly this post doesn't demonstrate the kind of critical thinking that leads to sound and reliable research. You've already leaped to the conclusion that something sinister is afoot, and you seem to be accepting improbable (but dramatic!) rumors at face value.

Look, I trust that your concern is in good faith. But if the absence of evidence won't persuade you, just look at the quarters these claims come from. Without exception, every person I've known who is into these kinds of conspiracy theories has been struggling with feelings of powerlessness and social frustration, a habitual drug user, and/or diagnosed with a mental illness. Those are not situations that predispose a person to sound judgment. (I'm not suggesting that any of these situations apply to you.)

People who are generally happy and successful in life—whatever success means to them—are never the ones advancing conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories are a way for people who feel small to imagine they're clued into something huge to which the ignorant sheeple around them are oblivious—or at least to explain to themselves why they always feel like some invisible agent is holding them down and withholding the success they deserve.

It doesn't matter if it's creationism, chemtrails, or Kennedy—the psychological dynamics are the same. Don't fall for it.
posted by ixohoxi at 4:14 PM on December 13, 2010 [5 favorites]


[bunch of comments removed - please be civil and don't call other people names. This should be MeFi 101.]
posted by jessamyn at 1:20 PM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


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