Time to take clouds seriously


Continued intense burning of fossil fuels will damage one cloud type to such an extent that it may add another 8°C to the global temperature. So much so that it would prevent humans from living in certain parts of the tropics.

Tapio Schneider and his team at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena modelled stratocumulus clouds over subtropical oceans, which cover around 7 per cent of Earth’s surface and cool the planet by reflecting the sun’s heat back into space. They found there was a sudden transition when CO2 levels reached around 1200 parts per million (ppm) and then the stratocumulus clouds broke up and disappeared.

This clouds have a special quality which leads to increased heat feedback. They are maintained by cooling as they emit infrared radiation and very high CO2 levels block this process.

And extra 8°C could warm the world by more than 14°C above the pre-industrial level.


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