Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Strong Evidence That Cloud Changes May Exacerbate Global Warming

Date:
July 24, 2009
Source:
University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science
Summary:
As the earth warms, it is not known whether clouds will dissipate and let more heat in, or whether cloud cover will increase. In a study in Science, researchers begin to unravel this mystery. Using observational data and models, they have established that low-level clouds appear to dissipate as the ocean warms, indicating that changes in these clouds may increase the warming of the planet.

This image shows unique cloud patterns over the Pacific Ocean of the coast of Baja California, an area of great interest to Amy Clement and Robert Burgman of the University of Miami and Joel Norris of Scripps Oceanography, as they study the role of low-level clouds in climate change.
Credit: NASA

The role of clouds in climate change has been a major question for decades. As the earth warms under increasing greenhouse gases, it is not known whether clouds will dissipate, letting in more of the sun's heat energy and making the earth warm even faster, or whether cloud cover will increase, blocking the Sun's rays and actually slowing down global warming.

In a study published in the July 24 issue of Science, researchers Amy Clement and Robert Burgman from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and Joel Norris from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego begin to unravel this mystery. Using observational data collected over the last 50 years and complex climate models, the team has established that low-level stratiform clouds appear to dissipate as the ocean warms, indicating that changes in these clouds may enhance the warming of the planet.

Because of inconsistencies in historical observations, trends in cloudiness have been difficult to identify. The team broke through this cloud conundrum by removing errors from cloud records and using multiple data sources for the northeast Pacific Ocean, one of the most well-studied areas of low-level stratiform clouds in the world. The result of their analysis was a surprising degree of agreement between two multi-decade datasets that were not only independent of each other, but that employed fundamentally different measurement methods. One set consisted of collected visual observations from ships over the last 50 years, and the other was based on data collected from weather satellites.

"The agreement we found between the surface-based observations and the satellite data was almost shocking," said Clement, a professor of meteorology and physical oceanography at the University of Miami, and winner of the American Geophysical Union's 2007 Macelwane Award for her groundbreaking work on climate change. "These are subtle changes that take place over decades. It is extremely encouraging that a satellite passing miles above the earth would document the same thing as sailors looking up at a cloudy sky from the deck of a ship."

What was not so encouraging, however, was the fact that most of the state-of-the-art climate models from modeling centers around the world do not reproduce this cloud behavior. Only one, the Hadley Centre model from the U.K. Met Office, was able to reproduce the observations. "We have a long way to go in getting the models right, but the Hadley Centre model results can help point us in the right direction," said co-author Burgman, a research scientist at the University of Miami.

Together, the observations and the Hadley Centre model results provide evidence that low-level stratiform clouds, which currently shield the earth from the sun's radiation, may dissipate in warming climates, allowing the oceans to further heat up, which would then cause more cloud dissipation.

"This is somewhat of a vicious cycle potentially exacerbating global warming," said Clement. "But these findings provide a new way of looking at clouds changes. This can help to improve the simulation of clouds in climate models, which will lead to more accurate projections of future climate changes. "

One key finding in the study is that it is not the warming of the ocean alone that reduces cloudiness -- a weakening of the trade winds also appears to play a critical role. All models predict a warming ocean, but if they don't have the correct relationship between clouds and atmospheric circulation, they won't produce a realistic cloud response.

"I am optimistic that there will be major progress in understanding global cloud changes during the next several years," said Norris. "The representation of clouds in models is improving, and observational records are being reprocessed to remove spurious variability associated with satellite changes and other problems."

Both Clement and Norris, who is a professor of atmospheric and climate science at Scripps, have received National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development awards for their work on climate change. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Program Office also provided support for this research.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science. "Strong Evidence That Cloud Changes May Exacerbate Global Warming." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 July 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090723141812.htm>.
University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science. (2009, July 24). Strong Evidence That Cloud Changes May Exacerbate Global Warming. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 2, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090723141812.htm
University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science. "Strong Evidence That Cloud Changes May Exacerbate Global Warming." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090723141812.htm (accessed October 2, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: 12 More Bodies Found on Japan Volcano

Raw: 12 More Bodies Found on Japan Volcano

AP (Oct. 1, 2014) — A dozen more bodies were found Wednesday as Japanese rescuers resumed efforts to find survivors and retrieve bodies of those trapped by Mount Ontake's eruption. (Oct. 1) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Cultural Learning In Wild Chimps Observed For The First Time

Cultural Learning In Wild Chimps Observed For The First Time

Newsy (Oct. 1, 2014) — Cultural transmission — the passing of knowledge from one animal to another — has been caught on camera with chimps teaching other chimps. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Trapped Scientist Rescued from Cave in Peru

Raw: Trapped Scientist Rescued from Cave in Peru

AP (Oct. 1, 2014) — A Spanish scientist, who spent 12 days trapped about 1300 feet underground in a cave in Peru's remote Amazon region, was rescued on Tuesday. (Oct. 1) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Media, Industry Groups React To Calif. Plastic Bag Ban

Media, Industry Groups React To Calif. Plastic Bag Ban

Newsy (Sep. 30, 2014) — California is the first state in the country to ban single-use plastic bags in grocery, liquor and convenience stores. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins