Using new satellite data, climate scientists have modeled a truly frightening scenario for the planet over the coming century.
Climate scientists have been ringing the alarm about climate change since the 70’s, but by and large, nobody paid them much heed until the last decade. According to a report from the New York Times, a new study published in the journal Science suggests that there may be little we can do to fend off the most extreme effects of climate change in the coming years.
The paper dispels a common myth among climate change hopefuls. Using new climate models, researchers showed that the cooling power of clouds has been dangerously overestimated. In other words, scientists have been betting that the heat blocked from entering our atmosphere by clouds was enough to keep the worst of global warming at bay.
The study focuses on what meteorologists refer to as mixed-phase clouds, which are composed largely of cooled water and ice crystals and found worldwide. The theory was that water and ice in clouds affected the amount of heat carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was able to trap. This was known as equilibrium climate sensitivity – the more sensitive this measure, the greater the impact carbon dioxide had towards trapping heat near the surface of the Earth.
Scientists used data captured by instruments mounted to the Calipso satellite, which monitors clouds and particulate matter in the atmosphere. The satellite’s data showed that on average, clouds contained more water and less ice than scientists expected. This led researchers to reconsider the rate at which heat was being trapped within the Earth’s atmosphere.
Water droplets are much more reflective than ice. For years, scientists believed that as ice in the clouds melted and turned into a liquid, more solar radiation would be bounced back into space and thus global warming would slow. In reality, with less ice to begin with, scientists realized that they had overestimated the capacity for water to replace the ice. Thus, the rate of warming is not slowing down as much as researchers initially thought.
The paper suggests that the planet could see an extra 1.3 degrees Celsius of warming on average based on the miscalculation in previous models.
The study, published in the journal Science, can be found here.