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Hot and cold

Posted 08/05/2013 by sevans

Mention climate change and whatever you say, there will be someone who takes exception to your viewpoint. But whichever side of the argument you come down on, it has to be the science that is the focus – not just the possible mechanisms, but also the potential global responses to climate change. And changes there are; the evidence, both anecdotal and scientific, is there for everyone to see.

While research focuses on supporting the theories behind climate change, the mechanisms for the possible mitigation of these effects are also being studied intensely, whether it is the capacity of the oceans to absorb carbon dioxide without loss of marine habitats and species like coral, or the capacity of the world’s vegetation to use more carbon dioxide. 

But the planet’s plant life can also have another type of impact, as researchers in Finland and Austria have discovered. Studies by scientists at the University of Helsinki and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) have identified what they describe as a negative feedback loop: as global temperatures rise, plants release gases that help the formation of clouds, which then cool the atmosphere by reflecting sunlight (Nature Geoscience, doi: 10.1038/ngeo1800).

Some aerosols were already well known to cool the atmosphere as they reflect sunlight, but the impact of so-called biogenic aerosols has been less well understood. The theory says that the plant-released gases are adsorbed onto the surface of airborne particles involved in cloud formation, thereby increasing their size and therefore cloud formation, and producing a greater reflectance from increased brightness.

While the overall effect on climate change is likely to be small – perhaps countering just 1% of climate change – the impact could be much higher, up to 30% where there are large forested areas.

As for the airborne particles, UK researchers have suggested that man-made pollutants could have a positive impact, as do natural sea spray and dust. Scientists at the University of Manchester have studied such anthropogenic pollutants, including vehicle and industrial emissions, which may originally exist as gases but condense into liquid droplet in the upper atmosphere, acting as nuclei for cloud formation (Nature Geoscience, doi:10.1038/ngeo1809).

Whatever the impact, these discoveries could help improve climate change models by reducing some of their uncertainties. So, while we may better understand how our world is changing, we are still a long way from agreeing about how we might slow or reduce these changes. Indecision might literally be the death of us.

Neil Eisberg - Editor

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  • Anonymous said:
    17/10/2013 04:02

    "The level of support for actoin on climate change is well within the zone in which major actoin has been taken on a lot of different issues. I view the debates over the science like the debates over evolution.Five Books: So, some people are just a bit mad.Pielke Jr.: Yes. The debate on evolution is not an obstacle to getting good medical care.Five Books: And it's not really a debate. There are just some nutters.Pielke Jr.: RightSo the skeptics are just some nutters? Interesting. http://esxcdbffmta.com [url=http://kjxptvah.com]kjxptvah[/url] [link=http://huxqlqywdn.com]huxqlqywdn[/link]

  • Anonymous said:
    16/10/2013 01:13

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  • Anonymous said:
    15/10/2013 06:46

    yes, an ocean current claled the gulf stream runs from the north atlantic reagon of the artic sea where the salt water freezes depositing its salt into the rest of the water, this then becomes heavey and sinks to the bottom of the ocean where it creates a current that travels to the caribean. here it surfaces as it get heated up and travels accross the atlantic straight at the british isles where it deposits its heat. that is why the british isles are much hotter than land at a similar latitude (ie newfoundland) and also why you can find coconut trees growing in scotland. if the temporatures raised in the artic then the salt water would stop freezing and the current would not have enough energy to reach the caribean and the gulf stream would stop, plunging the british isles into a deep, deep freeze like they get in canada.so yes, very much so.