With considerable embarrassment, a prominent atmospheric scientist whispered in my ear some time ago that he and his colleagues do not understand two of the most fundamental features of weather: evaporation and cloud formation. I deal here with the first of those two. How does water evaporate?

A common presumption is that evaporation follows standard expectations: liquid to vapor. A molecule of liquid water may somehow get a “kick” of energy, which propels that molecule into the atmosphere above. Although evidence backing that hypothesis is scant, the presumption would seem a reasonable expectation of the classical three-phase understanding of water: a simple transition from the liquid state to the vapor state.

Conflicting with that presumption is a simple observation, which you can verify yourself. Visit Starbucks. Order a cup of hot coffee and watch the rising vapor. If the background is dark enough, you will see the vapor rising from the cup into the air above — a white cloud rising toward the ceiling.

Your ability to see the rising vapor tells you something about its nature. Detecting any object with your naked eye requires that the object scatter light. To appreciably scatter light, the object’s size needs to be at least that of the wavelength of the illuminating light. That’s roughly half a micrometer. Objects smaller than half a micrometer are difficult to detect, while much smaller ones cannot be seen at all. That’s why you don’t see air molecules; they’re too small. Size does matter.

The size issue tells us something about the nature of the rising vapor. Your ability to see the vapor means that its constituents must be very much larger than half a micrometer. That standard may sound awfully small, but it amounts to a thousand times the water-molecule diameter or a billion times its volume. What’s contained in the visible rising vapor needs to be at least a billion times the volume of a single water molecule. The one-molecule-at-a-time concept won’t fit.

An entirely different explanation comes from the understanding that water has four phases, not three (1). The fourth (EZ) phase is ordered, negatively charged, and present in large clusters. Thus, EZ water has the potential to be central to the process of evaporation.

To be more specific, I will suggest that evaporation may come in two complementary forms: EZ water (seen at Starbucks); and bulk water (individual molecules, which cannot be seen). The former is negatively charged, while the latter is positively charged. Both species, I will argue, must be present for cloud formation (whose details are reserved for a subsequent presentation).

Let me deal first with the negative component, and then the positive component.

The negatively charged component, we found, arises from large, vertically oriented, stalactite-like structures building inside the water. Those EZ structures are negatively charged, while the regions surrounding each stalactite are positively charged.

To our surprise, we found that several of those neighboring structures rise collectively from the water, like missiles rising in unison from neighboring silos (2). Representative cross-sections are shown in image 2. The light portions contain the (EZ) water, while the darker regions are empty.

From some distance, the vapor looks like that shown in image 6. Each one of the successively rising clouds corresponds to a single rise event. Evidently, structures in the warm water build, and then rise, producing a succession of cloud-like evaporative events which, when viewed in cross-section resemble the images seen in image 2.

That’s what we can observe at the coffee shop. The clouds rise and then dissipate.

We found, further, that the stalactites get built from numerous negatively charged water droplets bonded together by proton spot welds — like mortar bonding stones of a wall (2). The resulting water structures rise altogether. Hence the rising “vapor” is not vapor at all; it consists of large packs of negatively charged water droplets ascending collectively, one after another, image 6.

You may be thinking: if negatively charged conglomerates exit from the water, shouldn’t the residual water bear a net positive charge? Obviously not, for otherwise positive charges would continue to build in the water without limit. Hence positive charges must rise as well.

As to the origin of the ascending positive charges, a hint comes from the localized bulges that can be seen at the water’s interface with air, as though something is pushing upward against the water's surface (image 4). Those surface bulges can be seen with low-angle incident illumination. The low-angle light hits the humps but not the valleys. So the bulges appear bright, the valleys dark.

Although the force pushing the bulges has not been identified with certainty, a leading candidate is the collection of protons created as EZ is created (1). Those protons are mostly freely suspended in the water. They repel one another, creating pressure on the water’s upper surface and therefore generating the consequent bulges. That pressure may drive protons (or hydrated protons) from the water into the air above. Hence, positive charges should exit the water along with the large negatively charged conglomerates.

You’d think that the rising negative and positive species would cancel one another. However, their respective rises differ in both time and space. The positive charges may rise continuously, while the negative charge clusters rise more sporadically, one at a time. And while the negative clusters rise from specific surface locales, the positive charges may rise from throughout the entire surface. Hence, cancellation of opposite charges is not inevitable.

What is inevitable is the ultimate formation of clouds, which come from evaporation. In a subsequent communication, I will argue that cloud formation requires those rising droplets to draw toward one another, the aggregating agent being those rising positive charges. The positive charges draw the negatively charged droplets into close proximity, creating those familiar clouds and the consequent need to grab an umbrella.


Pollack, GH: The Fourth Phase of Water. Ebner and Sons, 2013.
Ienna, F, Yoo, H. and Pollack GH: Spatially Resolved Evaporative Patterns from Water Soft Matter, 8 (47), 11850 – 11856, 2012.