What happens to clouds when pollution in our atmosphere drops by 30%?

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By Purdue College of Science. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

Patrick Taylor is a climate scientist at NASA Langley. He discusses the interactions of Earth’s systems (atmosphere, ocean, land, humans, etc.) in impacting climate. Patrick’s research focuses on the impact of clouds and how clouds influence the energy balance of our planet. We discuss how the Earth emits energy upward, which escapes at the top of the atmosphere. This is the primary way that the Earth is cooled. Clouds impact how energy flows around the planet. Clouds both reflect energy from sunlight and insulate energy being emitted from the Earth. Over the last 40 years, NASA has observed a tremendous amount of decline in arctic sea ice. This has been brought about by increased CO2 emissions and have led to warming temperatures in the arctic (temperatures in the arctic have warmed more than twice as fast as the rest of the globe). In the arctic, with more sea ice melting, it was thought that more of the ocean would be exposed. Scientists hypothesized that with more exposed ocean, more clouds should form due to an increase in atmospheric water vapor. With more clouds, more sunlight would be reflected back to space. Therefore, it was believed that an increase in clouds would slow down the rate of arctic sea ice loss. However, data from both CloudSat and CALIPSO indicate that this hypothesis is incorrect. Patrick explains that due to the interconnectedness of our planet, atmospheric circulation (wind) moves carbon dioxide emissions from high populated areas to the arctic which then impacts the rate that sea ice melts.

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