Atmosphere And Weather

Factors Affecting Regional Climates

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Northern Australia's Morning Glory Cloud Wave

One of the most spectacular, rare, and awesomely powerful phenomenon, the Morning Glory cloud wave of the Gulf of Carpentaria in Northern Australia is a magnet for growing numbers of pilots and scientists. Unique in all the world and shrouded in mystery, the Morning Glory wave arrives regularly each spring and with it the spectacular Morning Glory cloud formation so beloved of soaring and glider pilots.

The Morning Glory cloud in Australia's Gulf of Carpentaria is one of the most spectacular meteorological phenomena in the world. One kilometre high and stretching from horizon to horizon it is a massive pressure wave in the atmosphere that is still not well understood despite many research projects. The scientific term for the Morning Glory is a Soliton. A soliton is defined in Wikipedia as a self-reinforcing solitary wave.

Dynamic cloud waves of this type occur un-noticed everywhere and at all altitudes, and are the cause of much of the clear air turbulence which so disrupts commercial air travel. Those waves, however, are usually invisible, infrequent and currently unpredictable.

The Carpentaria Morning Glory waves are different not only because of the spectacular associated cloud formations which sometimes exceed 1000 km in length and 10,000 feet in height but also because of their predictability. These enormous cloud waves are believed to contain the energy equivalent of several nuclear devices.

Meteorologist Richard Holle believes that Lunar Declinational Tides hold the key to the prediction of Morning Glory waves. His theories are controversial but may well help us to understand the phenomenon, and to understand the sea one must understand the tides; it follows that to understand the world's weather one must first gain an appreciation of those same forces which cause the oceanic tides - the gravitational forces of the moon and the solar system.

In 1989 Rob Thompson and Russell White first soared a glider on the Morning Glory, riding it just like a surfboard rider does on an ocean wave. Since then they have been back many times and have been able, on occasions to surf along the cloud for hundreds of kilometres.

Rob works in the film and television industry and over the years has accumulated many hours of stock library video footage of the Morning Glory and the Gulf region. Samples of this film are available for download at and Russell has a collection of excellent still images at his web site

The best vantage point to see Australia's Morning Glory is from Burketown in the remote Far North Queensland around September and October. Towns in this part of the world are small and a long way apart and Burketown has an influx of glider and hang-glider pilots at this time of year so it can be difficult to get accommodation if you don't have your own camping gear. has a page with tourist links.

Similar spectacular Morning Glory type roll clouds have also been reported to occasionally happen off the Mexican coast in the Sea of Cortez. The phenomenon has also been observed from Sable Island, a small Canadian island located 180 km southwest of Nova Scotia. In contrast to Australia's Gulf of Carpentaria where the Morning Glory cloud is visible in the morning, the cloud has a predilection to hit Sable Island in the early evening.

More about this author: Sue Bluze

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