Pristine Environments Offer a Window to Our Cloudy Past


A new study uses satellite data over the Southern Hemisphere to understand global cloud composition during the industrial revolution.

This research tackles one of the largest uncertainties in today’s climate models — the long-term effect of tiny atmospheric particles on climate change.

Climate models currently include the global warming effect of greenhouse gases as well as the cooling effects of atmospheric aerosols. The tiny particles that make up these aerosols are produced by human-made sources such as emissions from cars and industry, as well as natural sources such as phytoplankton and sea spray.

They can directly influence the flow of sunlight and heat within the Earth’s atmosphere as well as interact with clouds. One of the ways that they do this is by bolstering clouds’ ability to reflect sunlight back into space by increasing their droplet concentration. This in turn cools the planet. The amount of sunlight that is reflected to space is referred to as Earth’s albedo.

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