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There are two methods of naming clouds in their respective layers of the atmosphere; Latin and common. Cloud types in the troposphere, the atmospheric layer closest to Earth's surface, have Latin names due to the universal adaptation of Luke Howard's nomenclature. Formally proposed in 1802, it became the basis of a modern international system that divides clouds into five physical forms that appear in any or all of three altitude levels (formerly known as étages). These physical types, in approximate ascending order of convective activity, include stratiform sheets, cirriform wisps and patches, stratocumuliform layers (mainly structured as rolls, ripples, and patches), cumuliform heaps, and very large cumulonimbiform heaps that often show complex structure. The physical forms are divided by altitude level into ten basic genus-types. The Latin names for applicable high-level genera carry a cirro- prefix, and an alto- prefix is added to the names of the mid-level genus-types. Most of the genera can be subdivided into species and further subdivided into varieties. A very low stratiform cloud that extends down to the Earth's surface is given the common name, fog, but has no Latin name.

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