How do clouds and climate change are related?
According to NOAA’s 2020 Annual Climate Report, Earth’s average surface temperature has risen at an average rate of 0.13 degrees Fahrenheit (0.08 degrees Celsius) per decade since 1880. However, the average rate of increase since 1981 has been more than twice that rate — 0.18°C / 0.32°F.
When the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere has doubled, which is expected to the end of the 21st Century, researchers project global temperature increase up to 4.5 degrees Celsius. That would incur a dramatic change of climate.
Since we are aware that climate change is a fact and that delaying action is not an option, we can mitigate its impact at least. Check our SoilMate’s website for inspiration and sustainable solutions.
Today, we will figure out how clouds are contributing to temperature rise and Global Warming.
Generally, clouds affecting the Earth in two ways that climate scientists define as positive and negative feedback. Clouds shade the sunlight, therefore, cooling the Earth. Clouds also produce precipitation from water vapor releasing the heat into the atmosphere. Evaporation of water vapor from the surface cools it. This process transfers heat from the surface to the atmosphere and is known as negative feedback.
However, as a greenhouse gas, the increased water vapor intensifies the greenhouse effect and could lead to further warming — this is positive feedback. If this positive feedback is not transformed by an increase in cloud cover, it could lead to further warming.
Indeed, we can determine changes in temperature since the earliest climate observations and use this data to discover how more it will warm. Besides the global temperature rise from the 18th Century, scientists also need to measure how cloudy it was in the 18th Century. And that’s the headache for scientists and the main issue in climate calculation.
Some calculations show other clouds have negative feedback, which means they reduce the warming effect. Another shows they have strong positive feedback, which would enhance the warming. However, as a result, they have slightly positive warming.
This may be explained by the fact that low clouds mostly have a cooling effect, preventing the sun from reaching the surface. However, high clouds usually have a warming effect as they let solar energy get to Earth, but the energy emitted back is different. This energy can be captured by clouds, amplifying the greenhouse effect.
Today, modern satellites are becoming more powerful, starting a revolution in the way how we observe the Earth. Satellite imagery is becoming more detailed and more frequent than ever, providing new data on clouds worldwide. Scientists from the Imperial College London and the University of East Anglia prove that it is very likely (97.5% probability) that clouds will increase global heating. That was the object of their latest study based on a new approach to satellite data.
Clouds distribution is also a significant factor in the warming climate. It potentially answers how some areas are more prone to drought, and others tend to floods. Since clouds play a massive role in regulating the weather on our planet and understanding how it will change as the climate warms is vital for Earth’s future.