If you’ve ever gone for a ride on one of Nevada’s public highways, chances are that you came upon a sight like no other. The massive dust clouds hanging in the sky over Carson City looked more like smoke than anything else. That’s when I first came across the mysterious purple haze that appears over the Northern Nevada area. Apparently, the haze is caused by sulfur dioxide and it has been linked to the formation of some purple haze cloud formations over the famous Nevada mountain passes. It’s also been linked to the unusual lightening patterns seen in some local forests.
The mystery of the purple haze continues, however there’s no doubt that the dark cloud formations are more than visually interesting. They’re also a very potent aerial insect repellant. There’s also evidence that these purple haze cloud formations have important ecological value. In fact, scientists at the University of Nevada found that these insects, which are called Thysanura chysti, actually control the population of certain species of forest creatures in the area. In a paper published in the journal of Environmental Science, the researchers said the presence of these cloud formations could be an important step in protecting the biodiversity of the Great Basin Desert National Parks.
Thysanura chysti, which is also known as the “fireworm” or “fire ant” can grow to five millimeters and is primarily found throughout the coniferous forests of the Eastern Slope. These insects have been linked to the destruction of millions of acres of coniferous forest around the country. Although the phenomenon of the purple haze above the Nevada ranges appears to be the result of soil erosion, experts aren’t entirely sure. It could be the result of a combination of multiple factors, including the development of sulfate clouds or soil that’s too wet from rain.
Purple Haze Delta
However, there’s no doubt that the sight of purple haze and the resulting cloud formations is most likely a toxic cloud occurrence. This isn’t the first time that this occurrence has happened in Nevada. A previous study by James Mastitis found that there was a large amount of sulfate in the air over the Great Basin. Cloud formations, particularly those that are purple in color, can create bad odors in the air. Sulfates are common contaminants in most soils and when they form in the air, they are carried away into the ground water and cause an odor problem in nearby areas.
Scientists are still trying to determine why, but there are a number of things that may help explain the occurrence of the cloud-like purple haze. One factor could be the development of sulfates along riverbanks, which often cause sulfate clouds in other locations. Another is the occurrence of albeds, where sulfates have washed down and formed the sulfated clouds we know of as purple haze. The formation of a cloud of purple haze may also be caused by lightning activity near an area. Lightning storms typically leave behind streaks of purple haze.
As scientists continue to monitor the progress of the purple haze cloud formation, more clues to the mystery will become apparent. It remains to be seen if this is a seasonal occurrence, or if it’s something that happens all year around. One thing is for sure though, as more scientists become interested in studying this phenomenon, there is sure to be more research done on this fascinating topic. There are currently a number of organizations throughout the United States that are funding studies on this interesting cloud formation.