Global warming: New research suggests climate may be more sensitive to greenhouse gases than previously thought

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Convective clouds over the Florida coast. bberwyn photo.

Correcting models with new information on cloud formation leads to higher projected temperature increases

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Climate scientists taking a closer look at the role of water vapor in cloud formation say the climate is probably more sensitive to greenhouse gases than most existing models suggest.

Based on those observations, they concluded that global temperatures could easily climb by at least 4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century if carbon dioxide emissions continue unchecked.

The research, published in the journal Nature, helps answer one of the long-standing questions about climate sensitivity — the role of cloud formation and whether this will have a positive or negative effect on global warming. Continue reading

Study helps unravel the secret life of clouds

Air pollution can be a big factor in development of thunderclouds

Thundercloud over Peak 1

Air pollution can have a significant impact on the development of thunderclouds, causing cloud remnants to persist longer. bberwyn photo.

FRISCO — Air pollution can have a significant effect on the development of thunderhead clouds, causing the cloud remnants to persist high in the atmosphere long after thunderstorms dissipate. This, in turn, can affect daily temperature ranges, as the lingering clouds partially cool the Earth during the day with their shadows, but trap heat to keep nighttime temperatures warmer.

The new study, from the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, helps answer long-running questions about how airborne pollutants affect climate warming. The findings will help provide a gauge for the accuracy of weather and climate models.

“This study reconciles what we see in real life to what computer models show us,” said atmospheric scientist Jiwen Fan. “Observations consistently show taller and bigger anvil-shaped clouds in storm systems with pollution, but the models don’t always show stronger convection. Now we know why.” Continue reading

Study helps pinpoint cirrus cloud formation

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Cirrus cloud study helps inform climate predictions.

Composition of seed material suggests human activity could be a significant factor

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Mineral dust and metallic aerosols are the key seeding agents for the formation of high-altitude cirrus clouds, which cover nearly a third of the globe at any given time. Often forming more than 10 miles up, cirrus clouds can cool the planet by reflecting solar radiation, and warm it, by trapping heat like a blanket.

A nine-year study of cirrus clouds using using instruments aboard high-altitude research aircraft is helping scientists get a better handle on the mechanisms driving cirrus cloud formation, and that, in turn, could help scientists predict future climate patterns. Continue reading

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