By now, most of us are familiar with what causes our planet’s changing temperatures. The burning of dirty energy adds planet-warming gases to our atmosphere, which traps heat and causes temperatures to rise.
Perhaps surprisingly, clouds have a role to play in the process — but only recently has their tangible effect on climate change been modeled effectively.
Certain types of clouds affect the planet differently. As our understanding of the atmosphere improves, scientists are better able to predict where these different clouds will appear and how the rising temperatures will change them.
What are the different kinds of clouds that affect the climate?
There are two types of clouds in particular that have a significant long-term relationship with global warming: stratus and cirrus.
Stratus clouds are thin, lower-lying, and can cover large swaths of the sky. These can help cool off the planet, as they reflect large amounts of light from the sun back out into space.
Cirrus clouds, which are more feathery looking and float at higher altitudes, are more effective at trapping radiation. Subsequently, they tend to heat the planet up as a result.
So, what does all of this mean?
Describing this new research, Paulo Ceppi, a climate scientist, told the Washington Post: “We’ve found evidence of the amplifying impact of clouds on global warming.”
Due to our overheating oceans, stratus clouds (which repel the sun’s rays) are expected to begin to disappear over large areas of the planet, Timothy Myers, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Colorado, Boulder, told the Washington Post. As temperatures rise, the clouds covering these bodies of water will dissipate.
While stratus clouds will become less common, cirrus clouds will be pushed higher into the atmosphere, seeking lower temperature levels. This will in turn increase their ability to catch and trap heat.
Overall cloud coverage will also be affected. A change in circulation patterns in the tropics is sending clouds towards the Earth’s magnetic poles and away from the equator, which means they’ll be reflecting less light from the sun, as there’s less sunlight hitting these areas.
All of these factors appear to suggest that clouds will play a significant role in shaping the climate crisis.
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