GeoLog

GeoLog

Extraordinary iridescent clouds inspire Munch’s ‘The Scream’

Screaming clouds

Edvard Munch’s series of paintings and sketches ‘The Scream’ are some of the most famous works by a Norwegian artist, instantly recognisable and reproduced the world over. But what was the inspiration behind this striking piece of art?

The lurid colours and tremulous lines have long been thought to represent Munch’s unstable state of mind; a moment of terror caught in shocking technicolour. At the same time, scientists have recently identified the connection between the great works of artists such as William Turner and the red and orange sunsets which can be a result of the global impact of volcanic aerosols. However, research presented this week at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly in Vienna by atmospheric scientists in Oslo Norway, suggests that the painting might show us evidence of something much stranger, and rarer – nacreous clouds.

Nacreous or mother-of-pearl clouds, are an extremely rare form of cloud created 20-30km above sea level – in the polar stratosphere when the air is extremely cold (between -80 and -85 degrees centigrade) and exceptionally humid,. So far observed mostly in the Scandinavian countries, these clouds are formed of microscopic and uniform particles of ice, orientated into thin clouds. When the sun is below the horizon (before sunrise or after sunset), these clouds are illuminated in a surprisingly vibrant way blazing across the sky in swathes of red, green, blue and silver. They have a distinctive wavy structure as the clouds are formed in the lee-waves behind mountains.

In 2014, these clouds were seen again over the skies of Oslo and given their extreme colouration and unexpected appearance, a photographer, Svein Fikke, immediately thought of Munch’s work. This perceived similarity between the mother of pearl clouds and the striking clouds and sense of tension in the painting is only reinforced when reading Munch’s writings about his experiences on the day that inspired the painting.

“I went along the road with two friends – the sun set

I felt like a breath of sadness –

– The sky suddenly became bloodish red

I stopped, leant against the fence, tired to death – watched over the

Flaming clouds as blood and sword

The city – the blue-black fjord and the city

– My friends went away – I stood there shivering from dread – and

I felt this big, infinite scream through nature”

                            Edvard Munch’s Diary Notes 1890-1892 (Tøjner and Gundersen, 2013)

Scientists have, in the past, used artworks to infer environmental conditions; from paintings of the ‘frost fairs’ held on the River Thames that show the gradual environmental change in Europe, to the discovery that several artists depict the influence of volcanic aerosols on global atmosphere in their paintings.

In a study conducted in 2007 (and 2014), scientists found that the visible impact that volcanic aerosols have on the atmosphere has in fact been recorded in the works of many of the great masters – particularly William Turner (Zerefos et al, 2007)). Several of Turner’s paintings depict sunsets with a distinct red/orange hue, distinct from his usual work of other years. This was correlated with significant volcanic eruptions in the same time period and the researchers found that these reddish paintings were all created in the years of, or immediately following, a major eruption (shown in the graph below).

Graph to show the relationship between colour and volcanic aerosols (a)The mean annual value of R/G measured on 327 paintings. (b)The percentage increase from minimum R/G value shown in (a). (c)The corresponding Dust Veil Index (DVI). The numbered picks correspond to different eruptions as follows: 1. 1642 (Awu, Indonesia-1641), 2. 1661 (Katla, Iceland-1660), 3. 1680 (Tongkoko and Krakatau, Indonesia-1680), 4. 1784 (Laki, Iceland-1783), 5. 1816 (Tambora, Indonesia-1815), 6. 1831 (Babuyan, Philippines-1831), 7. 1835 (Coseguina, Nicaragua-1835). 8. 1883 (Krakatau, Indonesia-1883). From Zerefos et al (2007).

For many years ‘The Scream’ was thought to also show the influence of a volcanic eruption, most likely the catastrophic eruption of Krakatoa in 1883 (described here by Volcanologist David Pyle), but whereas volcanic skies tend to tint the whole sky a red/orange, the skies in the scream have a distinct pattern, only seen in these extremely rare nacreous clouds.

How rare are they? Well, researcher Dr Helene Muri, a researcher based at the University of Oslo, who presented the research at the press conference, said that in her lifetime living mostly in Norway as an atmospheric researcher she has only seen them once. And what about Munch’s feeling of dread and ‘breath of sadness’?

Well, having a glowing swathe of iridescent petrol coloured clouds flare into bright relief after sunset, only for them to disappear 30 minutes later would be pretty shocking for any of us, even in our modern days of fluorescent streetlamps and light polluted skies.

By Hazel Gibson, EGU Press Assistant at the EGU 2017 General Assembly

Head on over to the EGU Booth!

Head on over to the EGU Booth!

You can find the EGU Booth in Hall X2 on the Brown Level. This is the place to come if you’d like to meet members of EGU Council and Committees (Meet EGU) and find out more about EGU activities.

Here you can discover the EGU’s 17 open access journals, browse the EGU blogs (GeoLog, the EGU Blog Network and the EGU Division Blogs), catch up on the conference Twitter feed, and more! We will also be giving away beautiful geosciences postcards, which the EGU will post for you free of charge.

Beside the booth you’ll also find the finalists in the EGU Photo Contest, make sure you vote for your favourite images!  You’ll also find the Assembly Job Spot – be sure to check it out if you’re looking for a job in the geosciences, or someone to fill as spot in your research group.

If you have any questions about the EGU, or want to be more involved in the Union, come and ask us, we’re happy to help!

At the Assembly 2017: Wednesday Highlights

At the Assembly 2017: Wednesday Highlights

We’re halfway through the General Assembly already! Once again there is lots on offer at EGU 2017 and this is just a taster – be sure to complement this information with EGU Today, the daily newsletter of the General Assembly, available both in paper and for download here.

The day kicks off with an interdisciplinary Union-wide session: Vegetation-climate interactions across time scales (US1, 08:30–12:00 in E2, followed by posters from 13:30 to 15:00 in Hall X4). It will bring together palaeocologists, ecophysiologists, geoscientists and climate scientists to explore the different processes through which plants interact with the climate system across timescales. You can also follow the session on Twitter (#EGU17SSE) and catch up with the EGU 2017 webstream.

The second of our Great Debates is also on today. It is particularly gear towards Early Career Scientists (ECS). Head to room G1 from 19:00 to 20:30 to discuss, in a series of small group debates, whether ECS should be judged by their publication record? There will be free drinks provided to help lubricate the conversation. You can follow the discussion on Twitter with #EGU17GDB, and, #EGUecs.

Another highlight of today’s events is the EGU Award Ceremony (US0). Come and celebrate the recipients of the 2017 awards and medals from 17:00 in room E1.

Another promising event set for today is the EGU Award Ceremony, where the achievements of many outstanding scientists will be recognised in an excellent evening event from 17:30–19:00 in Room E1. Here are some of the lectures being given by these award-winning scientists:

The EGU Early Career Scientists’ Forum (12:15–13:15 in L2) is the best place to find out more about the Union and how to get involved. Because the EGU is a bottom up organisation, we are keen to hear your suggestions on how to make ECS related activities even better. There will be plenty of opportunities during the Forum for you to provide feedback.  It’s over lunch, so you’ll find a buffet of sandwiches and soft drinks when you arrive too!

There are a host of interdisciplinary events taking place today. If you are interested in big data and machine learning in the geosciences head to Room L2 at 08:30 for orals, or poster hall X4 at 17:30 for further discussion later in day. While session IE3.1/BG9.58: Information extraction from satellite Earth observations using data-driven methods (13:30–15:00 / Room L2, Poster:17:30–19:00 / Hall X4), is also set to be thought-provoking. Check the conference programme, our EGU Today, for details of a further two events spanning the cryospheric, atmospheric and ocean sciences.

There are more short courses than ever at EGU 2017! (Credit: EGU/Stephanie McClellan)

Now on to short courses! Today offers the opportunity to learn some tips for winning grant proposals with Open Science (SC74: 08:30–12:00 / Room -2.85). Don’t worry if you can’t make it today, it runs again tomorrow at the same time and place. Perhaps you’ve considered showcasing the fruits of your research in an informative science film, but are struggling to identify where you can find the funds to make the film happen. Then the workshop on finding funding for your science film is just the ticket (SC78:10:30–12:00 / Room 0.90). If instead you feel blogging might be the best way to make your work accessible to a broad audience, come along to the short course on the nuts & bolts of blogging with WordPress where you can pick up a tonne of tips to get you started. If you work in the field of natural hazards you can learn how unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can be used for monitoring (SC53: 15:30-17:00 / Room -2.61). Writing your first paper can be daunting, so head to room N2 at 17:30 to develop successful strategies to design, develop and write a scientific paper (SC92:17:30–19:00 / Room N2)

And check out some of today’s stimulating scientific sessions:

Finally, remember to take the opportunity to meet your division’s representatives in the day’s Meet EGU sessions and, if you’ve had enough of the formalities, head on over to GeoCinema, where you’ll find some great Earth science films, including the finalists of EGU’s Communicate Your Science Video Competition. Make sure to vote on your favourite entries by ‘liking’ the videos on the EGU YouTube channel.

Have an excellent day!

Explore the Exhibition at EGU 2017!

Explore the Exhibition at EGU 2017!

Don’t forget to visit the Exhibition at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly!

Exhibition booths for companies, publishers, scientific societies and many more are scattered throughout the Brown (basement), Yellow (ground floor), and Green (first floor) Levels of the Austria Center Vienna. See the General Assembly website for a full list of who’s attending and where to find them.

Make sure you don’t miss EGU and Friends in Hall X2 on the Brown Level, where you can find out more about the EGU and its partners! Plus, for the first time this year, the EGU Booth will be flanked by large booths housing NASA, ESA, Google and a bigger mineral shop. Liven up your visit to the basement levels by stopping by.

With more space for presentations, low-budget catering options and a Biergarten, there is plenty to explore at the conference this year! Take a look at this blog post which has all the details.

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