Climate Change Could Make Common Clouds Extinct, Which Would Scorch the Planet
If humanity pumps enough carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, one of Earth’s most important types of cloud could go extinct. And if the stratocumulus clouds — those puffy, low rolls of vapor that blanket much of the planet at any given moment — disappear, Earth’s temperature could climb sharply and radically, to heights not predicted in current climate models. That’s the conclusion of a paper published today (Feb. 25) in the journal Nature Geoscience.
Clouds have long been one of the great uncertainties of climate models. Clouds are complicated, small and fast-changing. Computer models that easily capture the complexity and detail of most climate systems just aren’t powerful enough to predict worldwide shifts in cloud behavior.
But clouds are important. They dye a wide swath of the atmosphere white, as seen from space, reflecting sunlight away from Earth’s surface. And stratocumulus clouds are an important part of that picture; they’re those white blankets you might have seen as you looked out the window of an airplane, rolling out below you and hiding the ground. Researchers suspect that certain sudden, past jumps in temperature may have been caused by changes to clouds like these.
And once the stratocumulus clouds are gone, Wolchover reported, they likely wouldn’t reappear until atmospheric carbon dioxide levels dropped below where they are currently.
Evidence for Man-Made Global Warming Hits ‘Gold Standard’
Evidence for man-made global warming has reached a “gold standard” level of certainty, adding pressure for cuts in greenhouse gases to limit rising temperatures, scientists said Monday.
“Humanity cannot afford to ignore such clear signals,” the U.S.-led team wrote in the journal Nature Climate Change of satellite measurements of rising temperatures over the past 40 years.
They said confidence that human activities were raising the heat at the Earth’s surface had reached a “five-sigma” level, a statistical gauge meaning there is only a one-in-a-million chance that the signal would appear if there was no warming.