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Gallery 3 > Special Feature Galleries > Mother Of Pearl Clouds
They may look like an Impressionist masterpiece, but these rare nacreous clouds have been spotted 'painting' skies above the UK in a rainbow of colours. The stunning 'mother of pearl' formations which sit in the lower stratosphere. Officially known as polar stratospheric clouds, they are typically seen over Norway and other polar regions when the sun is just below the horizon. But while they appear beautiful, they are also destructive. It is thought that recent storms may have increased the chances of the clouds forming over the UK, by driving moisture up into the stratosphere - twice as high as a jet liner flies. This is where the clouds form, at around 70,000ft (21,336 metres) and in cold air at around -78°C (-108°F). It's also where the ozone layer resides. The unusual and beautiful sight has also been mistaken by some as aurora borealis, or the Northern Lights. Their colour comes from ice crystals refracting the sun's rays to give the rainbow effect.
It was a cold and windy February morning in the North-East of England and I had finished working my night shift and was rather tired to say the least. When I walked towards my car I looked up and saw the amazing clouds to the east. Luckily I had my camera in the boot so I made an instant decision to head off and photograph the clouds before they faded. I have seen quite a few Aurora's but the Nacreous Clouds topped them all - this was something else, something very special and something that I just had to photograph. I headed to my home town of Houghton le Spring and drove to the highest point at Copt Hill Barrow, the site of the Seven Sisters Neolithical burial mound. This is one of my favourite photography locations and an ideal place for a colourful backdrop behind the silhouetted trees. Upon arrival the rainbow clouds were in full bloom, so I set about the task of capturing my first shots. It was very, very windy and I had to hold the tripod firmly to prevent it from being blown over. The cold snap was biting, but I wasn't going to let anything hamper my chances of bagging some very rare shots. This was a sight to behold - absolutely unreal.
After 15 minutes or so I travelled the short distance by car to High Sharpley Wind Farm. From the entrance to the farm I pulled in some nice shots across the pastures towards the wind turbines in the distance. Again, the rare Nacreous clouds were putting on a fantastic show, as if someone has painted the sky - a kind of oil spill in the heavens.
My last port of call was Seaham Harbour, County Durham, a ten minute drive from the heights of High Sharpley. I parked my car near Tommy, Mission 1101, a corteen steel sculpture of a soldier reflecting on the first minute of wartime armistice. Tommy is another of my personal favourites - I never tire of photographing him. What an opportunity this was, to capture the big man's silhouette - 'Someone under the rainbow'.
As the sun began to rise above the low bank of cloud on the horizon, I quickly set to work, grabbing those once in a lifetime shots before the rainbow clouds disappeared. What an end to an amazing show and an amazing morning. As Tommy would suggest 'Lest We Forget'...well, this morning is one that I will never forget. I've seen some special scenes unfold before my eyes since taking up photography, but this one tops them all. This is why I love photography. You just never know what Mother Nature will throw at you from one day to the next. Unforgettable!
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