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Scientists and the Guardia Civil publish a joint study about a ‘megacryometeor’

For the first time a team made up of Spanish scientists and members of the Guardia Civil Forensic Science Department have published a joint study about the ice conglomerate called a “megacryometeor” that fell onto a factory roof in Mejorada del Campo, Madrid on 13th March 2007.

The results of the study, which are published in the latest issue of the Journal of Environmental Monitoring, indicate that this frozen entity, weighing approximately 10 kilograms, was formed “unequivocally” by the freezing of water vapour from the atmosphere. The specialists believe that ‘megacryometeors’ could possibly be new signs of climate change.

The principal investigator of the project, Jesús Martínez Frías, from el Centro de Astrobiología (Centre for Astrobiology), a mixed organisatoni made up of the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC) [The Spanish National Research Council] and the Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aeroespacial (INTA) [Spanish National Institute of Aerospacial Technology], explains to SINC that the importance of the study of the “megacryometeor” from Mejorada lies in the multidisciplinary collaboration which has been achieved among experts from the Laboratorio de Medio Ambiente del Servicio de Criminalística (SECRIM) de la Guardia Civil [Guardia Civil’s Department of Criminalistics Environmental Laboratory] and the scientists from the CSIC and various universities, who have developed a large number of complementary analytical techniques. This joint study can be used as a model for procedure in other similar cases.

In the year 2000 numerous ‘megacryometeors” fell in various parts of Spain, and the media echoed these events, together with several cases of scientific fraud. Since then scientists started to record the impact sites. “Between 2001 and 2008 nine cases have been recorded in our country and some 70 throughout the world”, informs Martínez Frías, who reminds us that these ice conglomerates could pose a risk to people and material assets, particularly those related to aviation.

Francisco Alamilla, a chemist from the SECRIM Environmental Laboratory, points out to SINC that when the ‘megacryometeor’ fell in Mejorada it did not cause any damage to persons, but did cause material damage to the factory roof where it fell, and the owners reported this incident to the police. The Guardia Civil Judicial Police team went to the scene and made a visual inspection, assessed the damage and prepared an official report. These procedures, the rapid freezing of the samples and transport of these to the laboratory, enabled the chain of custody to be maintained and the investigation to be carried out rigorously.

The SECRIM specialists defrosted a few small lumps of the sample and measured values. “Immediately we realised that it was rainwater and the results of the laboratory tests and previous investigations enabled us to rule out likewise that this was a joke or an act of vandalism”, says Alamilla. The Guardia Civil expert report suggests that the lump of ice that fell on the factory was the result of an atmospheric process.

The SECRIM chemist points out that when they suspected that this involved an atmospheric phenomenon, Martínez Frías and the CSIC experts were contacted immediately. The Guardia Civil performed physical and chemical, microbiology and metal tests. Other tests were performed at the Centre for Astrobiology, Madrid, and at the Experimental Station in Zaidin (CSIC), Granada, where the isotopic composition was examined. Researchers from the Departments of Geology from the Faculty of Sciences at the Universidad Autónoma, Madrid and from the Faculty of Biology at the University of La Laguna, Tenerife, took part in the study as well.

The scientists have ruled out the possibility that the ‘megacryometeor’ in Mejorada was made up of water condensation from the wings or other parts of an aircraft, because of its size, texture and hydrochemical and isotopic characteristics. Similarly, they have ruled out that this is the result of wastewater from airplanes as they have not found any organic components in the samples. Lumps of ice similar to this one had already fallen well before airplanes were invented, explains Martinez Frías, “although it is certain that from the 1950s onwards the number of impact sites has increased spectacularly throughout the world”. There are recordings in countries such as Australia, Japan, India, South Africa, Sweden, the United States and Argentina.

Signs of climate change

The term ‘megacryometeor’ was coined jointly by Martínez Frías and David Travis, a climatologist from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, USA, who presented this officially at an international conference on environmental catastrophes at Brunel University in the United Kingdom, in 2002. “It is absolutely clear that the ice in these conglomerates came from the troposphere, explains the CSIC expert, so it is erroneous to call them aerolites (fragments of cosmic material that fall on the Earth), as the media often refers to them.

Until now there has been no satisfactory scientific explanation to clarify how the process of initial ice nucleation begins in these lumps of ice, nor how they increase in size afterwards and how they stay in the atmosphere when they weigh several kilos. “But the fact is they fall”, says Martínez Frías. The experts believe it is necessary to monitor and keep studying these ‘megacryometeors’ in a multidisciplinary way, not only because of the danger they represent, but because they could be indicators of more serious risks to the environment.

These extreme atmospheric phenomena usually coincide with anomalous behaviour in the tropopause (the boundary region between the troposphere and the stratosphere) where unusual patterns in the wind waves occur involving changes in wind direction and velocity, as well as an increase in humidity and anomalies in the ozone layer. All this leads the scientists to believe that the ‘megacryometeors’ could be a new type of sign or indication of climate change, and this has been put forward in different scientific articles since January 2000.

SINC Team | alfa
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