Just about everything washes up on the beaches of Martha’s Vineyard at some point, from seaglass to messages in bottles. And last December, a few lucky beachcombers up-Island encountered a first: Pieces of a personal weather modification device.


Laurisa Rich (with Tim Rich) discovered part of the cloudmaker on Squibnocket Beach. — Courtesy Karolina Sobecka.

That’s the formal name. Informally, it’s simply a cloudmaker, a combination science experiment/art project created by Karolina Sobecka, 35, of New York city. Ms. Sobecka designed the cloudmaker as part of her Amateur Human project, which seeks to personalize human relationships with the environment. Two boxes are tiered together and attached to a weather balloon, which is launched into the sky with a GPS tracker attacked. At a certain altitude, the lower box releases cloud condensation nuclei into the atmosphere, creating a relatively small (five metres across) cloud. A camera ensconced in the upper box records the process. The project is a small-scale version of current geoengineering projects to generate clouds as a method of counteracting global warming.

“Scientists have been trying to control parts of the weather or trying to figure out if they could . . . since the forties,” Ms. Sobecka told the Gazette. “The end result is that there’s really no way to know because it’s so unpredictable.”

She explained that her project was designed to provoke conversation about what many perceive to be issues too large to be fully comprehended, such as global warming.

But after the second launch last December, she began to wonder if any conversation would happen — the tracker fell off of the cloudmaker after it was launched above the Catskills in New York, and Ms. Sobecka had no idea whether she would get her project back.

Two weeks later, she received a call from Randy Jardin of Aquinnah. He’d found a small box with “Harmless Scientific Experiment” written on the side, and called the number next to it. Would she like to come pick it up?

Later in the day, Ms. Sobecka had another call from Laurisa Rich and Megan Sargent, who had been out walking on Squibnocket. They’d found the second part of the cloudmaker.

Device releases cloud condensation into atmosphere. — Courtesy Karolina Sobecka.

A week later, she received a call from Boston — a Vineyard weekender, Chris Birch, had found the camera in it.

“I was so happy when it landed here and people were calling me about finding it,” she said. During the cloudmaker’s first launch, the device ended up tangled high in a tree in Connecticut. The GPS tracker remained attached, so Ms. Sobecka was able to locate her project. But the tree was on protected wetland area, so a tree company had to be called in with a professional climber to scale the trunk without using spikes. The wetlands were adjacent to a couple’s home, and although the wife had no problem with a science experiment landing next to her house, “the husband was not happy about us being in his backyard,” Ms. Sobecka recalled.

The reception on Martha’s Vineyard was a bit different, she said with a touch of understatement.

“I think that part of it is there’s definitely a culture of finding things and . . . getting gifts from the sea [here],” Ms. Sobecka said. “People are kind of curious and excited about things that might wash up [and] tell you stories.”