It’s no secret that human-induced climate change is affecting ecosystems as well as weather systems around the world. However, a group of scientists found that increased amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere may result in significant cloud loss across the global oceans, causing huge spikes in global warming which would be beyond control. The greenhouse gas emissions cause marine stratus clouds to first become unstable and then completely disappear.
Can you imagine life without clouds? Clouds play an important role for our existence on Earth. Not only do they generate rain that refreshes our soil and flora, but they also protect us from intense UV rays which are responsible for various diseases such as skin cancer. But, not only our health would be compromised if they ceased to exist, the entire Earth’s existence would be put in danger, as it would greatly increase the rate of climate change.
Cloud loss would cause the surface temperatures to rise greatly, the study published in the journal Nature Geoscience suggests. Global temperatures could rise by about 14 degrees Fahrenheit. This would occur if CO2 concentrations were to rise to around 1,200 parts per million (ppm), while the current concentration is at about 410 ppm (and rising). This dreadful scenario could be expected by the next century if the world continues burning fossil fuels at the same rate as up til now.
“I think and hope that technological changes will slow carbon emissions so that we do not actually reach such high CO2 concentrations. But our results show that there are dangerous climate change thresholds that we had been unaware of,” Caltech’s Tapio Schneider, Theodore Y. Wu Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering and senior research scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a statement.
Stratus cloud decks make up about 20% of subtropical oceans and more are in the eastern parts of the oceans, near the coasts of California and Peru. They are beneficial because they shade and cool down the land as well, given that they reflect the sunlight back out into space. In that way, Earth’s surface temperature is constantly regulated.
Schneider and his team created a small-scale model computer simulation which shows clouds as they move turbulently over the mentioned ocean portion. There was instability in the clouds and a spike in warming when CO2 levels passed the 1,200 ppm point. What’s even more scary that following the cloud loss, no new clouds reappeared until CO2 levels dropped below the measurement the instability first occurred.
“This research points to a blind spot in climate modeling,” Schneider said, who is currently leading a consortium called the Climate Modeling Alliance (CliMA) aiming to build a new climate model.
In order to work, the CliMA model will resort to data assimilation and different machine-learning algorithms to combine observations of Earth and simulations into a model, which will show the cloud loss and make a more precise model than previous ones. The new model will also hope to have a more precise understanding of CO2 levels and cloud instability.