Wednesday, September 23, 2020

SearchResearch Challenge (9/23/20): Digging deeper into the story behind a photo?


I'm sure this happens to you... 

You're out and about when something captures your eye.  Quick! Pull out the phone/camera and grab the image.  Later, when you get back home, you can look it up.  (Usually.)  

Recently I took a couple of photos that I've puzzled over for a while.  What's going on in these images?  Can you help me figure out what the backstory is for each of these images?  

These are fun Challenges that can go in many different directions.  Where will your curiosity take you?  

1. Here's a pic I took the other day in my back yard.  I live not too far from San Francisco International airport, so it's common to see contrails in the sky.  But this one seems unusual to me.  For lack of a better term, it's unusually poofy with lots of blobs along its length.  What's going on with these poofs on the contrail?  Does this happen often?  Is there a name for this phenomenon? 

2. Here's another photo I took while hiking on a trail next to a channel in the greater Los Angeles area. I'll spare you from having to extract the lat/long from the photo (it's 34.1628333,-117.9922528). It's not the most exciting trail in the world--it follows along a fairly barren path next to this concrete channel for quite a ways before getting to Monrovia Canyon Park (which is quite nice).  

As you can see, for most of its length, the concrete channel has plain square walls.  Here, though, there's a kind of angled buttress on one side of one corner of the place where the ramp enters the channel.  Why is it there?  Why would someone feel the need to build this special buttress?  

As I said, there are all kinds of ways to think about these SRS Challenges.  For instance, you could extrapolate the questions:  Why aren't all contrails poofy like this?  Or, Why does Los Angeles have all of these strange channels that obviously don't have water in them?  Assuming that this channel sometimes does carry water, where does that water go?  (Ultimately, it will go into the Pacific, but where does it stop on the way?   

I'm curious about your curiosity.  What motivates YOU to take a note or snap a photo for later looking-up?  I do it all the time, but I've been led to understand that not everyone does this!  Do you?  If so, what motivates your curiosity?  And how far will you go to figure something out?  Does your mind naturally ask just one more question, the way mine does?  

After The Joy of Search came out I ran into a friend at grocery store.  She told me that "I've been reading your book and now I know a lot about how your mind works.  You know, you're not normal..."  

I assume she meant that in a friendly way as a comment on my curiosity. I think of my level of curiosity as normal, but it's not a common topic of conversation.  

Is your level of curiosity normal?  What do you think? What motivates you to pursue SRS-like investigations in your life?  

Please leave your comments in the blog comments area.  And, as always, let us know HOW you found the answers to these Challenges. 

Search on! 


  1. 1. Contrails:

    [Types of contrails] and [ Poof contrails]

    FAA Contrails 101
    Contrail: A condensation trail, a cirrus like trail of water vapor. More information on the site

    There are 3 kinds:

    short-lived, persistent non-spreading, and persistent spreading.

    How coldtrains form?
    Aircraft can generate both aerodynamic contrails and exhaust contrails.Aircraft can produce both types of contrails at the same time

    Also visited the Wikipedia article on contrails and found:

    Distrails & Climate around contrails I think I haven't seen a distrail in real life yet. Article external links mentions site to debunking contrails weird stories

    Contral Science

    What Really Causes Chemtrails? YouTube Video

    Also searched [tipos de estelas aviones] to find information in Spanish

    Contrails formation (video)

    Searching on Twitter [contrails meteosojuela] shows beautiful photos and videos

  2. lobes or mammas
    source pdf
    another Dan

    the channel… looks like a boat bumper next to the launch ramp… for when there is water in the channel

  3. Regarding "not normal": I think there is confusion regarding normal vs different. The vast majority of us are normal in different ways. And that's the joy. Imagine how boring and difficult life would be if we were all the same, liked all the same things, wanted to live in the same place ...

  4. Our best bet is that it's some kind of protective structure to keep debris from ramming that corner during a flash flood, as its downstream from the debris basin.

  5. I am so like you, I research so many things a hang on from being a lecturer in Construction Technology, the vapout trail with little blobs is more than lkely the vapour catching upward air currents at one edge, the concrete shape I can only think is is some form of boat bumber, casting it would be a pain. The channel is as you say a storm overflow, the ground is so dry, runoff is huge so to prevent major flooding these chanels help to steer water away quickly. I use the google meta data for so much, linking to google Earth , street view and as part of CAD,

  6. Just thought, what direction is the flow of the culvert, the concrete might well be to stop it flowing over the wall as it vortex's into theside channel

  7. It is not unusual.

    For this Challenge I turned to my cloud bible: Written by Gavin Pretor-Pinney Founder and president of the Cloud Appreciation Society. (I am a member) The book is appropriatly titled 'The Cloudspotter's Guide' Page 271 has an image just like yours. Mr P-P has this to say: Contrails are both interesting to observe often very beautiful. When the air at cruising altitude is unstable, for instance, trails can form teeth of cloud below them, making them look like half of a zipper - as if the aircraft is delicately undressing the heavens with its progress across the skiy."

    The cause maybe:
    Some searching online tells us that this is caused by the so-called Crow Instability in the vortexes caused by aircraft; whilrling the otherwise straight contrails into spirals then donut-shaped rings. More about this in Scientific American:

    The mixing gases contained in the contrail rotate with respect to the ambient air. These regions of rotating flow are called vortices. (Any sharp surface, such as the tip of a wing, can cause vortical flow in its wake if it is sufficiently large or the flow is sufficiently fast.) On occasion, these trailing vortices may interact with one another.
    In one well-known example of this fact, the Crow Instability causes the vortices to develop symmetric sinusoidal oscillations and eventually to merge and form vortex rings behind the jet. This instability can be triggered by turbulence in the surrounding air or by local variation in air temperature or density, which may itself be the result of the stratification of the atmosphere. When the contrails are visible and strong, it is possible to see the white streaks become wavy and then leave rings floating high in the sky, like smoke rings from a giant cigar.

    1. Awesome quote... "delicately undressing the heavens..." Thanks.

  8. 2. That channel runs from the Sawpit Debris Basin. Periodically there is a lot of dirty debris laden water running. The nice rounded rocks that have been trapped there indicate, to me, a goodly force of flowing water. Likely there is floating logs and such going by. Perhaps that iron reinforcement on the corner is protection from logs and kayakers. or to deflect water from rushing over that corner?

  9. The rusty little "L" shape on the corner of the access road and the channel. After much cogitation I believe that it is to mitigate the washout effects from the downhill rush of water from overtopping the containment wall. Should this happen more debris would be washed back into the channel. I see now that I was already thinking along this line last week and have now returned to it. This is a good project. jon tU