Winter is here, snow is falling in many areas of the country, and some of us are already wishing for the return of hot summer days. But, would you believe that even on the hottest summer day the temperature inside some clouds remains icy and winter-like, producing temperature readings as cold as negative 70 degrees Celsius (negative 94 degrees Fahrenheit)? Would you also believe that the ice crystals that form at the top of big summertime clouds may help scientists predict next winters snowstorm?
Known to interrupt hot summer afternoons with almost daily thunderstorms, convective cloud systems are very common in Florida. This image shows the unique shape of these systems, often called an "anvil" because of their potential to grow quite wide at the top and bottom, remaining narrow in the middle. Image credit: NOAA
Clouds, particularly the high thin cirrus clouds, play a major role in the balance of (reflecting and absorbing) solar energy between the Earth and space. Scientists are trying to find out more about the ice crystals within the cirrus clouds and what role they play in this balance. Image credit: NASA
Last month, scientists from NASAs Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. and Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. published a paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research on the importance of classifying ice crystals within the big summertime clouds, or convective cloud systems, as observed during a Florida-based research campaign. In their paper, the scientists showed that their instruments can identify the ice crystals and now they can begin to classify the crystals. By learning to classify the ice crystals in clouds, these scientists hope to contribute to improving weather and climate models, the complex computer programs used to show future atmospheric conditions.
Weather and climate computer models are complex because they must account for hundreds of variables, including many that seem completely unpredictable. Vincent Noel, a research scientist with Analytical Services and Materials at NASA Langley and the author of the journal article, explains, "Usually climate prediction means predicting the evolution of temperature, pressure, relative humidity, and plenty of other variables, over small (a few days) and large (a few centuries) timeframes. However, to predict all this stuff with enough accuracy, we need to take into account clouds -- and for the time being, clouds are the most important source of uncertainty in climate prediction."
Katie Lorentz | EurekAlert!
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