Climate change is pushing clouds higher into the atmosphere and causing them to shift towards the Earth’s poles, according to a new study.
A new analysis of various types of clouds records has revealed that the Earth’s clouds are being pushed higher into the atmosphere and moving towards its poles. The data points to the increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases caused by climate change as the culprit and aligns with the predictions made by previous climate models.
“What this paper brings to the table is the first credible demonstration that the cloud changes we expect from climate models and theory are currently happening,” said Joel Norris of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California San Diego and lead author of the study.
Understanding the behavior of clouds is important for climate scientists due to the unique roles that they play – in addition to cooling the planet by reflecting solar radiation, they are also responsible for trapping solar energy and heating the planet. This unique dual role is one of the biggest obstacles for climate scientists attempting to better understand how to curb global warming.
Most cloud imaging data is unreliable due to being captured by satellites designed to weather monitoring. These devices are prone to be influenced by changes in their orbit, calibration, and sensor degradation, among other factors.
Norris and his team removed these artifacts from several independent satellite records in order to get a clearer picture of cloud behavior and revealed their increasing height and movement towards the Earth’s poles.
The findings are concerning because these changes increase the absorption of solar radiation by the Earth and decrease the emission of thermal radiation to space, both of which contribute to the global warming that stems from the increase in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations witnessed in the recent years.
Journal Reference: Evidence for Climate Change in the Satellite Cloud Record. Published 8 July 2016. 10.1038/nature18273