Using data from NASAs Aqua satellite, agency scientists found heavy smoke from burning vegetation inhibits cloud formation. The research suggests the cooling of global climate by pollutant particles, called "aerosols," may be smaller than previously estimated.
This is a an image acquired by the Mediterranean Israeli Dust Experiment (MEIDEX), an instrument that flew aboard Space Shuttle Columbias final flight from January 16 - February 1, 2003. The image shows a pall of gray smoke hanging between two banks of cumulus clouds over the Amazon rainforest. Notice there are few clouds present where the smoke is thick. Credit: NASA
During the August-October 2002 burning season in South Americas Amazon River basin, scientists observed cloud cover decreased from about 40 percent in clean-air conditions to zero in smoky air.
Until recently, scientists thought aerosols such as smoke particles mainly served to cool the planet by shading the surface, either directly, by reflecting sunlight back toward space, or indirectly, by making clouds more reflective. Certain aerosols make clouds droplets smaller and more numerous, thereby making the clouds more reflective while reducing the amount of sunlight reaching the surface.
Rob Gutro | GSFC
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