Over the last decade or so, people have started paying more attention to global warming and climate change predictions. As our modern society becomes more developed and our transportation systems become a huge part of our everyday lives, it is important that we pay more attention to what can affect us on a national or global level. One area of great concern has been cloud coverage. More specifically, researchers are studying the relationship between climate change predictions and the structure of the clouds. The results have been less than encouraging thus far.
Climate Change Predictions
Cloud structure refers to the number and types of clouds in the sky. Each cloud type has its own properties that determine its likely impact on climate. There are several different classes of clouds, and each class affects the climate in a slightly different way. Understanding the relationship between all of these different clouds can help researchers gain a better understanding of climate change and how it might affect us.
As scientists study the relationship between climate and individual clouds, they generally try to figure out how climate change is likely to play out for various areas. Generally speaking, there are three types of cloud structures. The first is the cumulus, cirrus, and stratus cloud structures. These three classifications are used most often to represent the different stages of cloudiness. A fourth class, known as the state cloud, is rarely seen and is considered to be the least common type of cloud.
A Much Ado
In order to understand how individual clouds can change the climate, it is necessary to know something about the chemistry of the atmosphere. When clouds form, molecules are known as air-borne particles are forced to pass through different layers of the atmosphere. Sometimes, the particles collide with other molecules, creating a light cloud or a light hazy cloud. At other times, the particles stay dry and pass through the layer of lower air where temperatures are cooler.
The temperature of a cloud varies with altitude. The closer it is to the earth, the higher the temperature will generally be. In addition, the nature of the cloud varies with size and shape. For example, air that is descending will have low pressure and a very distinct smell, much like how one might smell after walking through dry yellow grass.
Small-scale changes in the clouds can also change the climate. Climate models may project that large hazy cumulus clouds are shifting slowly southwestward into the spring and that colder air will be moving in to replace warmer air. Smaller cloud structures that are moving southwestward are said to have the same effect. Matheou and colleagues have found that there is a strong link between temperature and the intensity of turbulence. The hotter a cloud is, the thicker its cloud layer becomes, which makes turbulence much more visible.
In order to understand climate change more fully, researchers need to be able to observe many different kinds of clouds at the same time. This is why computer models so often fail to reproduce the same patterns. With climate change, changes in any one single factor (such as temperature) are insufficient to show a significant effect on global temperatures. Instead, researchers need to examine the effects of changing multiple factors simultaneously.
To improve our climate change predictions, researchers need to improve our ability to calculate them. They should also develop better methods for representing complex climate models in high-resolution and geographically representative formats. Until then, we will have to rely on other sources of data, such as satellite data and climate model ensemble projections. Only time will tell whether our models and predictions are accurate and reliable.