The effect of clouds has been the biggest uncertainty in predictions about global warming. In this new study, researchers from the University of Exeter and the Laboratory of Dynamical Meteorology in Paris created a simple model to see how changes in anvil clouds could impact warming. Anvil clouds are common storm clouds in the tropics that have a distinctive anvil shape.

The scientists compared their model results to real-world observations of how clouds currently affect temperatures. This confirmed that their model worked well and reduced uncertainty in climate forecasts.

The model showed that changes in the coverage of anvil clouds will likely have a much smaller impact on global warming than previously thought. However, how bright or thick clouds are still needs more study. This is one of the major obstacles to predicting future temperature rises accurately.

The lead researcher Brett McKim said “climate change is complex, but sometimes we can answer key questions in very simple ways.” Their simple approach looked just at basic cloud properties like height, size and temperature. This let them write equations and create a model that matched real cloud data. Their results cut the uncertainty about anvil clouds’ influence on warming in half.

McKim said this simple model is a big step forward that could save several years waiting for important warming thresholds, like the 2 degree Celsius target set by the Paris Agreement. Their next research will look at how warming may impact cloud brightness over time.

Scientists have found a new way to better understand how clouds will affect future climate change. Clouds can impact temperatures in two main ways, they can cool the planet by reflecting sunlight back to space, or they can also warm the planet by trapping heat from the Earth like a blanket.

The effect of clouds has been the biggest uncertainty in predictions about global warming. In this new study, researchers from the University of Exeter and the Laboratory of Dynamical Meteorology in Paris created a simple model to see how changes in anvil clouds could impact warming. Anvil clouds are common storm clouds in the tropics that have a distinctive anvil shape.

The scientists compared their model results to real-world observations of how clouds currently affect temperatures. This confirmed that their model worked well and reduced uncertainty in climate forecasts.

The model showed that changes in the coverage of anvil clouds will likely have a much smaller impact on global warming than previously thought. However, how bright or thick clouds are still needs more study as this is one of the major obstacles to predicting future temperature rises accurately.

The lead researcher Brett McKim said climate change is complex, but sometimes we can answer key questions in very simple ways. Their simple approach looked just at basic cloud properties like height, size and temperature, and this let them write equations and create a model that matched real cloud data. Their results cut the uncertainty about anvil clouds’ influence on warming in half.

McKim said this simple model is a big step forward that could save several years waiting for important warming thresholds, like the 2 degree Celsius target set by the Paris Agreement. Their next research will look at how warming may impact cloud brightness over time.


Sources

University of Exeter | McKim, B., Bony, S. & Dufresne, JL. Weak anvil cloud area feedback suggested by physical and observational constraints. Nat. Geosci. (2024). doi.org/10.1038/s41561-024-01414-4


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