Just in case you need more evidence that climate change is real, scientists are now saying that we have thorough documentation that cloud distribution across Earth has shifted. More importantly, the shift has pushed clouds outwards, towards the poles, roughly 20 to 30 degrees latitude in both hemispheres.
“As global warming occurs, there’s the expectation that the storm track will shift closer to the pole and the dry areas of the subtropics will expand poleward,” explains lead study author Joel Norris. The climate scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego conducted the study along with scientists from Scripps Institute and the University of California at Riverside as well as the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Colorado State University.
Norris goes on to say, “I guess what was surprising is that a lot of times we think of climate change as something that’s going to occur in the future. This is happening right now. It’s happened during my lifetime — it was a bit startling.”
Of course, climate modelers need to take into account that clouds can have two different effects on the surrounding temperature.
Furthermore, Norris notes that these changes can be predicted by most climate models, despite the fact that these models do not, exactly, agree on most other things related to clouds (like, perhaps, their temperature anomaly).
Norris adds, “During daytime, if there are a lot of clouds present, thick clouds, then that will keep the temperature cooler,” since clouds reflect incoming sunlight back out towards space.
Thick clouds, however, can also act kind of like a blanket that keeps the planet warm which, he says, is the very reason a cloudy night might not be as cold as a clear night.
And our weather satellites do not necessarily help us learn more about cloud behavior in the long run. Sure, we get lots of pictures of today’s cloud formation and, perhaps, can predict them over the next few days, but down the road is another thing entirely.
As such, Norris says, “The difficulties we have is that every few years a new satellite is put up with a different instrument, the orbits change, and this all changes how much cloud the satellite measures.”