Study: Present day clouds are different than pre-industrial ones

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Study: Present Day Clouds Different Than Pre-Industrial Ones

Before industrialization, clouds were likely quite a bit different than they are now.

This probable divide is making it difficult for scientists to model the impact of airborne particles called aerosols on clouds and thus the role they play in climate change.

According to a recent study by the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, researchers attribute this difficulty either to insufficiencies in the complexity of the climate models themselves or simply the prevalence of aerosols in the atmosphere due to pollution.

Aerosols have a profound impact on the formation and evolution of individual clouds. They can impact a cloud's brightness, lifespan and the amount of rain each cloud produces.

According to a summary of the findings, "The physics and chemistry underlying these and other components mean scientists have to represent daunting complexity in models."

That complexity remains elusive yet indispensable for understanding climate sensitivity—a term that describes how easily the Earth is impacted by human-produced greenhouse gases. To fully understand it, scientists must account for many factors—including clouds.

Study author Steve Ghan noted one possible solution, saying, "We might have to find clouds far away from civilization. But, there are parts of the world that are pretty darn clean."

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