The world’s clouds are in different places than they were 30 years ago

In a new study published in Nature on Monday, July 18, 2016 scientists say they have for the first time thoroughly documented one of the most profound planetary changes yet to be caused by a warming climate: The distribution of clouds all across the Earth has shifted, they say.

And moreover, it has shifted in such a way — by expanding subtropical dry zones, located between around 20 and 30 degrees latitude in both hemispheres, and by raising cloud tops — as to make global warming worse.

“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,” said Joel Norris, a climate scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, and the study’s lead author.

The study observed this change, but a northward shifting of storm tracks was not the only effect. The tops of clouds are also now reaching higher into the atmosphere, Norris explained. “An increase of CO2 leads to cooling of the stratosphere, so it’s cooling down, the troposphere underneath is warming up, and so that means, as the clouds rise up they can rise up higher than they did before,” Norris adds.

Not just one but both of these changes to clouds are “positive feedbacks” to climate change — tending to make warming worse.

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