For over a decade, the largest scientific uncertainty about how the planet will respond to warming temperatures hasn’t come from how much carbon dioxide will be soaked up by the ocean or absorbed by the trees. It’s come, instead, from clouds.
The fluffy, whimsical collections of water droplets floating in the air have, for some time, confounded climate scientists and models alike. Scientist have long known that depending on how clouds respond to warming temperatures, the world could become even warmer or a little bit cooler. They just haven’t known which.
But in the past few years, scientists have begun to nail down exactly how clouds will change shape and location in the rapidly warming world. The result is good news for science — but not good news for humanity.
“We’ve found evidence of the amplifying impact of clouds on global warming,” said Paulo Ceppi, a climate scientist at Imperial College London.
Scientists have long known that clouds have two primary influences on the global climate. First, clouds are reflective — their white surfaces reflect the sun’s rays away from Earth, creating a cooling effect. (If the planet were suddenly devoid of these fluffy parasols, the planet would be roughly five times hotter than even the most disastrous global warming projections.) But clouds also create a warming effect — certain types of clouds insulate the Earth’s radiation, keeping the planet warm much like carbon dioxide released from the burning of fossil fuels.
Read more: MSN
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