The list of cloud types is a summarisation of the modern system of cloud classification according to their height, forming mechanism and other characteristics that have been adopted universally.
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In the troposphere, there are ten basic genus types with Latin names derived from five physical forms that are cross-classified into étages defined by altitude range. Most genera are divided into species and varieties, also with Latin names. The essentials of the modern nomenclature system for tropospheric clouds were proposed by Luke Howard, a British manufacturing chemist and an amateur meteorologist with broad interests in science, in an 1802 presentation to the Askesian Society. Since 1890, clouds have been classified and illustrated in cloud atlases. Mesospheric and stratospheric clouds have their own classifications of types and subtypes using mostly alpha-numeric nomenclature.
Clouds form in the Earth's atmosphere when water evaporates into vapor from oceans, lakes, ponds, and even streams and rivers; and by evaporation or transpiration over moist areas of Earth's land surface. The vapor rises up into colder areas of the atmosphere due to convective, orographic, or frontal lifting. This subjects the rising air to a process called adiabatic cooling.
The water vapor attaches itself to condensation nuclei which can be anything from dust to microscopic particles of salt and debris. Once the vapor has been cooled to saturation, the cloud becomes visible. All weather-producing clouds form in the troposphere, the lowest major layer of the atmosphere. However very small amounts of water vapor can be found higher up in the stratosphere and mesosphere and may condense into very thin clouds if the air temperatures are sufficiently cold. The nephology branch of meteorology is focused on the study of cloud physics.
Altocumulus – altus and cumulus – high heap; now applied to middle stratocumuliform.
Altostratus – altus and stratus – high sheet; now applied to middle stratiform.
Cirrocumulus – cirrus and cumulus – thin, wispy heap; applied to high stratocumuliform.
Cirrostratus – cirrus and stratus – thin, wispy sheet; applied to high stratiform.
Cirrus – thin and wispy; applied to high cirriform.
Cumulonimbus – cumulus and nimbus (Latin for "raincloud") – precipitation-bearing heap; applied to vertical cumulonimbiform.
Cumulus – Latin for "heap"; applied to low or vertical cumuliform.
Nimbostratus – nimbus and stratus – precipitation-bearing sheet; applied to deep stratiform with vertical extent.
Stratocumulus – stratus and cumulus – heap partly spread into a sheet; applied to low stratocumuliform.
Stratus – Latin for "sheet"; applied to low mostly shallow stratiform.
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