Clouds, once thought to be our puffy shields against global warming, may not be doing their jobs with as much intensity as previously thought. In fact, new satellite data shows multiple warning signs indicating a rapidly deteriorating climate.
As surface temperatures continue to rise across the world, previous climate models indicated that clouds could partially negate the effects of global warming and shield the earth from the solar radiation that fuels the rise in global temperatures. However, new research suggests scientists may have significantly overestimated their abilities.
As scientists continue to analyze seven years’ worth of data obtained from a NASA cloud-monitoring mission, they are realizing some disturbing facts about the puffy formations floating idyllically in the skies. It appears clouds are doing a lot less to slow the warming of the planet than previously thought. As a result, global temperatures may rise a lot faster. While the burning of fossil fuels is worsening the atmosphere and contributing to global warming, the inability of the clouds to arrest solar radiation may result in the temperatures rising about 25 percent faster than previous climate models.
The study published Friday in the journal Science, indicates the clouds have a vastly varying proportion of ice versus liquid water than previously imagined. The previously unknown ratio is critical to understand just how effective the clouds are in curbing the intensity of global warming.
How are clouds helping to curtail global warming? Clouds may appear to offer little more than passing shade and rain, but they play a very vital role as gigantic umbrellas. The visible mass of condensed water vapor, seemingly floating idyllically across the sky, is useful in reflecting solar radiation back into space and away from the surface of the earth. Interestingly, as surface temperatures rise, clouds become even more efficient at their jobs as solar reflectors.
Clouds either contain more ice crystals or water vapor, depending on the temperature, location, and altitude. The coldest of clouds only contain ice, while the warmest contain only water vapor, Majority of the clouds are considered “mixed-phase,” which means they contain both in varying proportions. When temperatures rise, ice in the clouds turns to water vapor, which is more efficient at reflecting solar radiation back into space. The clouds with more water vapor are brighter as well, which further fortifies the ability to reflect sunlight.