Click on image for full size
Ronald L Holle
Clouds are Clues to Climate!
News story originally written on August 13, 2002
Cirrus clouds are thin wisps made of millions of tiny ice crystals that form high in the sky, above the other clouds. These clouds may look harmless because they don't cause big thunderstorms or drop tons of snow, but these little wispy clouds may be clues to how Earth's climate is changing.
Looking at the clouds from above with satellites, NASA scientists found that there are more cirrus clouds around the world than usual. Scientists suspect that more cirrus clouds form when the Earth is warmer. Because global warming is raising the temperature of the Earth's surface over tens and hundreds of years, more cirrus clouds form today than several years ago.
However, not only does climate affect the cirrus clouds, but the clouds can also affect the changing climate. They may warm Earth by acting like a blanket trapping heat rising from the planet. Or, they may cool Earth by acting like a sun umbrella blocking light from reaching the planet's surface.
To understand the composition and structure of the clouds, scientists will make measurements of cirrus clouds from many different levels in the atmosphere, from near the Earth's surface up to 70,000 feet in altitude, as well as looking at the clouds from above with satellites. Hopefully their research will help us better understand how cirrus clouds may change Earth's climate in the future.
Last modified August 14, 2002 by Lisa Gardiner.
Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!
Learn about Earth and space science, and have fun while doing it! The games
section of our online store
includes a climate change card game
and the Traveling Nitrogen game
You might also be interested in:
Cirrus clouds are the most common of the High Cloud (5000-13000m) group. They are composed entirely of ice and consist of long, thin, wispy streamers. They are commonly known as "mare's tails" because...more
It was another exciting and frustrating year for the space science program. It seemed that every step forward led to one backwards. Either way, NASA led the way to a great century of discovery. Unfortunately,...more
The Space Shuttle Discovery lifted off from Kennedy Space Center on October 29th at 2:19 p.m. EST. The weather was great as Discovery took 8 1/2 minutes to reach orbit. This was the United States' 123rd...more
A moon was discovered orbiting the asteroid, Eugenia. This is only the second time in history that a satellite has been seen circling an asteroid. A special mirror allowed scientists to find the moon...more
Will Russia ever put the service module for the International Space Station in space? NASA officials want an answer from the Russian government. The necessary service module is currently waiting to be...more
A coronal mass ejection (CME) happened on the Sun early last month. The material that was thrown out from this explosion passed the ACE spacecraft. The SWICS instrument on ACE has produced a new and very...more
J.S. Maini of the Canadian Forest Service called forests the "heart and lungs of the world." This is because forests filter air and water pollution, absorb carbon dioxide, release oxygen, and maintain...more