A new study has been released by Nature that says that scientists have found some of the most profound changes to our planet thanks to global warming: the distribution of clouds across our planet has shifted. In this shift, they have expanded subtropical dry zones by as many as 20 and 30 degrees latitude. Cloud tops have also risen, which will only make global warming worse.
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“As global warming occurs, there’s the expectation that the storm track will shift closer to the pole and the dry areas of the subtropics will expand poleward,” said Joel Norris, the study's lead author and a climate scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. The work was conducted in conjunction with scientists at Scripps, the University of California at Riverside, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Colorado State University.
Norris explains why the cloud tops shifting is such a big change: "An increase of CO2 leads to cooling of the stratosphere, so it’s cooling down, the troposphere underneath is warming up, and so that means, as the clouds rise up they can rise up higher than they did before,” adds Norris.
This change has been expected, but it wasn't expected quite so quickly.
The study looked pieces of weather satellites from 1983 to 2009 to line up with theories of the movement.
“We’re seeing what the climate models think the pattern of cloud change would be,” said Norris.
The paper summarizes the changed by saying that: “cloud amount and albedo [i.e., reflectivity] increased over the northwest Indian Ocean, the northwest and southwest tropical Pacific Ocean, and north of the Equator in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Cloud amount and albedo decreased over mid-latitude oceans in both hemispheres (especially over the North Atlantic), over the southeast Indian Ocean, and in a northwest-to-southeast line stretching across the central tropical South Pacific.”
This doesn't mean that some places just don't have clouds anymore. The changes are in how radiation originating from the sun enters and leaves Earth's system.
The clouds are moving so that they are reflecting less of the sun's rays back toward space, which means that our planet is picking up more.
“We now have a thicker blanket, which is also a warming effect,” Norris said.
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It is important to note that this study isn't completely new information. In fact, for the last few years when scientists looked at how the earth is going to be impacted by global warming, they included numbers similar to those that this study solidified.