Will clouds enhance or diminish warming?

Clouds can enhance and reduce warming depending on several factors including how high and dense they are. Low clouds can block the sun from hitting the ground and have a cooling effect.

Because high clouds absorb energy so efficiently, they have the potential to raise global temperatures. In a world with high clouds, much of the energy that would otherwise escape to space is captured in the atmosphere. High clouds make the world a warmer place.

You may be thinking “Do clouds cool or warm the Earth?”

The Short Answer: Clouds play an important role in both warming and cooling our planet. Clouds give us a cooler climate on Earth than we would enjoy without clouds. However, as Earth’s climate warms, we won’t always be able to count on this cooling effect.

Low, warm clouds emit more thermal energy than high, cold clouds. This image illustrates that low clouds emit about the same amount of thermal energy as Earth’s surface does. This is most clearly seen over the Pacific Ocean. The water is nearly white, while the low marine clouds are pale gray, only slightly cooler.

Does cloud cover affect climate?

Clouds form throughout all the levels of the atmosphere and affect both weather and climate. The type and amount of clouds that commonly form over a region impact the precipitation conditions. Cloud cover may also influence temperatures at the surface of the planet.

They found that low-level clouds tend to dissipate as the ocean warms — which means a warmer world could well have less cloud cover. “That would create positive feedback, a reinforcing cycle that continues to warm the climate,” says Amy Clement, a climate scientist at the University of Miami and the lead author of the Science study.

What is cloud cover and why is it important?

Cloud cover is only one element of climate sensitivity. Scientists are also concerned about the earth’s ice, which reflects sunlight back into space, making it a cooling factor, while seawater absorbs the sun’s heat.

How do high clouds affect the climate?

High clouds make the world a warmer place. If more high clouds were to form, more heat energy radiating from the surface and lower atmosphere toward space would be trapped in the atmosphere, and Earth’s average surface temperature would climb. Clouds impact temperatures in other ways as well.

High-level, feathery clouds help heat the planet during the day, allowing sunlight to penetrate the surface and prevent heat from escaping. Meanwhile, lower level clouds often reflect heat from the sun back into space and keep the surface temperatures cool. Cloud cover can also limit the cooling that occurs in a region at night.

On the whole, higher temperature will produce greater moisture in the air, which will favor the formation of clouds in the cool regions of the atmosphere (which may move upward as the surface warms).

Those high, wispy clouds actually keep Earth warm, like a blanket, by preventing heat from escaping into space. Dr. Platnick uses NASA’s Aqua satellite to determine the height of clouds, and other properties of clouds as well – like what’s inside a cloud, how much water they have, whether the cloud is primarily liquid or ice.

A frequent inquiry we ran across in our research was “How can clouds help predict weather?”.

One source claimed stratus clouds: fog, cirrostratus clouds: moisture moving in, altocumulus clouds: warm with a risk of storms, sources, altostratus clouds: expect light rain, nimbostratus clouds: rain, rain go away! Or cumulonimbus clouds: severe storms are a few more ideas to keep in mind.

How do warm currents affect temperature?

One principle of physics is that material that is less dense will rise, while material that is more dense will sink. Temperature really is a measure of energy. When the water molecules of the ocean become heated, they expand. Some more items to investigate are sources of salt and other minerals, or fun facts.