Cooling vs Warming clouds

Clouds which are closer to the surface, which are thick and look greyish, reflect the sunlight we receive, preventing it from reaching the Earth and hence acting as a shadow. These clouds have a cooling effect.

Fluffy white clouds, which are located in the higher levels of the atmosphere, let more sun through. That’s why you can see these clouds on warmer days and not really feel their cooling effect. Moreover, these latter clouds also trap heat in the atmosphere, their net result is warming.

Stratus clouds block the sun heat

High Clouds let more heat through

A study published in Nature[1] predicts that more CO2 in the atmosphere can have a dispersing effect on clouds, leaving less low-hanging, heat-protecting shield. This is because warmer air can hold more water vapor, which literally breaks the dense cooling clouds apart.

The models used to predict the behavior of the clouds are still full of uncertainty, because of many interdependent processes and variables in nature that we still do not fully comprehend. 


[1] http://www.nature.com/articles/s41561-019-0310-1

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