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Cloud Research Could Shed Light On Climate Change

October 23, 2008

Scientists are hoping to discover new information on how clouds over the Pacific Ocean can affect the global climate and weather systems.

The clouds, some greater than the size of the US, refract sunlight back into space and chill the ocean below. The researchers expect to learn about the clouds’ properties and if pollution from activities could alter the arrangement of these cloud systems.

The study will engage 200 scientists from 10 countries in the research. An additional team of 20 climate and cloud specialists from the UK’s National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) are participating in the mission, based in Chile.

Hugh Coe, the lead scientist for the British association, says the task can advance the precision of climate change models.

“These are some of the largest cloud systems in the world and we know that they must play a very significant role in climate change, yet we know that climate models do not represent them very well,” Coe explained.

“This campaign is a fantastic opportunity to make cutting-edge measurements in a unique environment and merge them with state-of-the-art climate models,” he continued. “We hope to finally hit some of the uncertainties in current climate models on the head.”

Professor Coe and his researchers will obtain data through cloud and dust probes attached to two research aircrafts, which fly in the low-lying cloud masses. This will allow the scientists to comprehend how the systems are formed, how reflective they are, and how to determine the longevity of the clouds.

The cloud type being examined is the marine stratocumulus. These arise near land where deep, icy, flowing water arrives at the surface of the sea. The water chills the surface air, resultant in condensation and cloud arrangement. The clouds are low lying and are there all year round in several regions.

We know that clouds are influential to the planet’s overall climate because the gigantic formations mirror sunlight back into space and the amount of solar energy that reaches the Earth’s surface is limited as a result.

The UK team will also try to establish if pollution from mining actives along the Chilean and Peruvian coasts could affect the clouds. Such widespread coverage and thorough measurements have never been documented in this region prior to the study.

The Chilean and Peruvian areas provide an idyllic area in which to investigate such effects as there are natural and man-made aerosols at hand. This will let researchers contrast the differences between clouds created in a polluted atmosphere and those fashioned in a clean atmosphere.

The research is being conducted in October/November when the cloud’s coverage is at it it’s strongest for this region. The southeast Trade Winds blowing the hardest during this time of year and the coastal upwelling is also at its peak in strength.

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