A new research study has found that clouds are losing their capability of reflecting great quantities of radiation from the sun as global warming unfolds. It appears we have been overestimating their potential and strength in curbing climate change.
The results were published in the Science journal last Friday. By using the latest satellite technology, researchers were able to analyze clouds and determine their proportion versus liquid water, a ratio important for climate modeling. According to the lead author of the study, Yale geophysics and geology assistant professor Trude Storelvmo,
“The broader implication of this work is that for the same amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, we’ll see greater global warming than currently predicted, so for global policy it means more fossil fuels need to stay in the ground.”
In terms of their composition, clouds are situated on a spectrum. The coldest of them is full of ice while the warmest is made of water. The current study is focused on the clouds that are in between these two extremes, otherwise known as mixed-phase clouds.
It appears that if a cloud contains more liquid water it has a better ability to reflect solar radiation, thus keeping us safe and preventing our planet from boiling hot temperatures. Unfortunately, the results of the study have found that we have previously overestimated the amount of ice that is contained by clouds.
The researchers were able to make this discovery thanks to CALIPSO, a satellite from NASA that was launched back in 2006. The satellite fires a laser by using lidar towards Earth. Based on the way the light scatters, it can find the proportion of both ice and liquid water from the clouds.
Back in 2013, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) estimated the sensitivity of the climate to somewhere between 2 to 4.7 degrees Celsius. The new study pushes this range to 5.3 degrees Celsius. Unfortunately, this poses an even greater challenge to our efforts of reducing the emissions of carbon. The nations of the world are making a collective effort of not breaching the two degree Celsius (3.5 degrees Fahrenheit) warming limit.
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