Climate science is in the clouds

From Monash Magazine, February 2015:

Look at any landscape painting and there is a good chance that clouds will have a prominent presence. But the dazzling diversity of shapes and hues that captures the imaginations of artists is also what makes clouds so perplexing for meteorologists and climatologists.

Clouds are still one of the least understood meteorological phenomena, and incorporating clouds into weather and climate prediction is one of today’s grand challenges for climate scientists. Not only do clouds form in response to weather and climate, but they also have a major influence on weather and climate. And they do so on many scales: from local heavy rainfall to the global mean temperature.

While the ability to predict weather and climate has improved significantly over the past few decades, clouds remain a major issue in climate models – so much so that a good deal of the range of answers in climate change predictions can be attributed to variations in how clouds are modelled.

Clouds influence climate partly through their interaction with radiation, says Professor Christian Jakob, who is deputy director of the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science and a researcher at Monash University.

“Different types of clouds behave differently, so if a cloud is very low then its main impact is reflecting solar radiation so it would cool the Earth,” he says. “So if you then talk about climate change, more low clouds would counteract some of the warming.” Read more.

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