Clouds, we see them every day but very little is known about their biology.

This could soon change, partly due to the work of scientist Dr Bruce Moffett who is carrying out world-class scientific research at Goodwick's Ocean Lab.

Dr Bruce Moffett is a leading authority on bio- precipitation, the study of clouds and how they form rain. His research at Ocean Lab could play a pivotal role in the way mankind deals with climate change.

His work centres on ice nuclei which trigger rainfall from clouds: In temperate climates the water in clouds has to freeze in order for it to rain, pure water however does not freeze at 0C but at -40C. As clouds rarely get this cold a bacterial catalyst, an ice nucleator, is required.

These can be bacteria, moss or lichen; a pint of cloud water can contain two million bacteria.

Dr Moffett analyses samples of water using a modified PCR machine, usually used to make copies of DNA. Using freezing and heating techniques he can analyse the number and origin of ice nuclei in a sample.

"Clouds are still one of the great unknowns," he said. "If we understand how clouds are formed we will be able to get more of a handle on their influences on earth's temperature."

His most recent research has focused on the presence of these ice nucleators in the river Gwaun. He will expand on this later during a trip to the Mississippi and the Missouri rivers later this month.

"There are very very few ice nuclei in the oceans," said Dr Moffett. "But there were 10,000 more ice nuclei in the River Gwaun. The rivers could be the source of the ocean ice nuclei that people have been researching for years.

"The oceans are more likely to make rain fall back into the oceans where it is of no use to man or beast. We should be looking at rivers."

Other research centres on seaweed and its ability to produce its own cloud systems. Data from the Ocean Lab shows seaweed can produce ice nuclei at high temperatures and might be able to make their own clouds and make their own rain

"If we don't have rain we don't have civilisation," said Dr Moffett. "That's what life depends on. The availability of water is what drives civilisation; it's what has killed off civilisations in the past.

"The more we understand about the hydrological cycle the better. Then we can maybe influence where and when rain falls."

Dr Moffett hopes to involve local people in cloud catching and seaweed analysis projects this summer. For more information call the Ocean Lab on 01348-874737.