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Vanishing Clouds Could Worsen Global Warming

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Aired 7/24/09

A UC San Diego study shows evidence that changes in the Earth's cloud patterns could increase global warming.

A UC San Diego study shows evidence that changes in the Earth's cloud patterns could increase global warming.

It seems a simple question: Does a reduction in cloud cover increase the rate of global warming or slow it?

The answer is complex.

Joel Norris from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and researchers from the University of Miami may have an answer.

Norris, a professor of atmospheric and climate science at Scripps, says the team used observational data collected over the last 50 years and complex climate models to show that changes in the clouds may enhance the warming of the planet.

"If these clouds dissipate then they will allow more solar radiation to reach the ground and exacerbate the warming produced by increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere," Norris says.

Norris says as low level stratus clouds - think of San Diego's marine layer - dissipate with ocean warming, it creates a vicious cycle potentially making global warming worse.

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