Clouds’ cooling effect could vanish in a warmer world

High concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide can result in the dispersal of cloud banks that reflect roughly 30% of the sunlight that hits them.

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Low-lying cloud banks off the coast of California, Peru and Namibia are some of the planet’s most effective cooling systems, because they reflect sunlight back into space. But new climate simulations show that increasing carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere could break up these cloud layers and exacerbate future warming.

The findings, published on 25 February in Nature Geoscience, reveal a previously unknown interaction between clouds and greenhouse gases: about three times the current level of atmospheric carbon dioxide can abruptly disperse clouds. Under a business as usual emissions scenario, this could occur in about a century. A world with fewer clouds, projections indicate, could witness up to 8ºC of warming in addition to that caused by greenhouse gases.

By: Emiliano Rodriguez Mega/Nature News

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