As opposed to temperature and rainfall changes that leave their imprint in sedimentary layers, tree rings, or ice cores, clouds have the ability to dissipate quickly – and when this happens, computer simulations indicate that climate tipping points could result in 8 additional degrees of warming globally over the course of one century – this being on top of 4 degrees caused directly by greenhouse gas emissions.
Why do we have clouds?
Clouds are visible collections of water droplets or ice crystals floating through the air, playing an invaluable role in Earth and other planetary weather patterns. Clouds provide rain or snowfall and help keep Earth cooler by reflecting some of the sun’s rays back down toward us, as well as rapidly disperse dust, bacteria and other particles around faster than we can otherwise.
Clouds form when warm, moist air rises and cools. Because warm and moist air has lower density than its surroundings, it rises more easily, becoming less dense as it rises and the moisture in it condenses into tiny water droplets or ice particles as it cools further. When its capacity for holding moisture has been reached – known as saturation – clouds appear.
Clouds often appear white when they form, as water droplets reflect all colors of light that hit them and cause it to look pure white. But sometimes pollution in the air causes their hues to change – leading them to appear yellowish or brownish instead.
Clouds move slowly in the atmosphere, yet are constantly shifting position. This is because the atmosphere doesn’t comprise one large layer of gas; rather it has different layers with differing temperatures and humidities; those where clouds form tend to have lower humidity than their predecessors, giving rise to their formation a limit whereby their growth ceases.
As clouds expand they may become heavy enough to fall to Earth as rain or snow; or they may break apart into smaller particles that form fog on their descent, becoming the equivalent of hailstones during severe thunderstorms.
Clouds on Earth can be seen from space and many have names. Common examples include stratiform veils or sheets, cirrus clouds and cirrostratus clouds; others form between 2,000-6.500 meters (6,500-20000 feet). Finally, altocumulus clouds or altostratus clouds exist at altitudes between 6,000-8.000 meters (20000-206000 feet).
How do clouds form?
Clouds are visible masses of water droplets or ice crystals suspended in the atmosphere, often formed of various shapes, sizes and colors. Clouds play an essential part in shaping Earth’s weather patterns. Meteorologists classify clouds into various categories according to their appearance and effects on weather systems.
Cloud formation begins when the sun warms the Earth’s surface, prompting air currents to rise and cool until reaching their dew point – the temperature at which water in the air changes from gas into liquid form – where tiny droplets of moisture form on aerosol particles such as dust, sea spray salts, bacteria or even volcanic ash in the atmosphere.
These droplets, known as condensation nuclei, provide a place for water droplets to condense on. As more condensation nuclei enter the atmosphere, cloud thickness and size will increase exponentially.
Once water vapor in a cloud condenses into liquid form, it begins to fall through the air as rain or snow begins to accumulate; eventually enough precipitation occurs for precipitation to occur – usually rain and snow are responsible but clouds may also contain hail or sleet for further precipitation.
Cloud formation is vitally important, as they affect how much energy our planet receives from sunlight. Without clouds, solar radiation would reach less surface areas and potentially overheat them all. Furthermore, clouds help regulate temperatures by reflecting incoming light energy while absorbing outgoing heat energy – two key aspects to temperature regulation.
Clouds play many vital functions on Earth beyond simply regulating temperature; from producing rain and snowfall, to causing wind, fog, protecting ground from glare, to providing visibility for astronauts in space.
Though most of Earth’s clouds are composed of water vapor, other planets contain clouds made up of different gases; for instance, Jupiter features ammonia ice and ammonium hydrosulfide clouds while Venus features sulfuric acid ones. All planets have clouds.
How do we know if there are clouds?
Clouds are made up of water droplets or ice crystals floating through the air, and are an integral component of Earth’s weather and climate system. Clouds shade our planet at night to keep temperatures warmer; during the day they reflect sunlight away from Earth and help cool its atmosphere; furthermore they produce raindrops, thunderclouds and lightning as well. Studying clouds provides scientists with a better understanding of this aspect of global weather & climate systems – NASA even sent satellites out into space to study clouds on other planets such as Mars!
There are 27 distinct species of clouds found across our planet. They’re named according to where or how they form in the sky and their shape; further divided into three groups based on height: high, middle and low clouds. High clouds often surround jets or kiss mountaintops while middle clouds form fluffy white puffs while low clouds appear like sheets blanketing the sky – each type revealing information about the coming weather conditions.
Cloud color is determined by how it reflects and absorbs wavelengths of light, as represented by rainbow colors (violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange and red) which represent electromagnetic waves with differing lengths emitted by the Sun through our atmosphere and reaching Earth; when sunlight hits clouds they scatter or interfere with them creating their grayish appearance.
A darkening cloud occurs as its water droplets clump together. Once larger water droplets absorb more sunlight and absorb into a cloud’s structure, water vapor within it becomes dense enough to fall out as precipitation, darkening it further until its appearance as dark gray or black clouds.
Wall clouds can also help predict when it may rain by their presence – they’re dark, puffy bases of cumulonimbus clouds which appear during hot and humid days and form towering columns which often reach into the sky – suggesting a thunderstorm could be close by.
What happens if there are no clouds?
Clouds play an integral part of Earth’s water cycle and serve to regulate its temperature by reflecting solar radiation back into space, keeping Earth cooler by keeping heat absorbed by ground from being absorbed and refracted back. But clouds do much more than cool the world: They also act as an atmospheric blanket to regulate local weather and global climate conditions.
Without clouds, Earth would likely be much warmer. This is because clouds absorb longwave radiation from Earth and reemit it as shortwave heat; how much energy they emit depends on their type and thickness – low clouds (those within one mile of ground) tend to cool more than they warm; high clouds however tend to warm more.
Cloud formation is determined by humidity; therefore if there is no moisture present then clouds won’t form. But sometimes even though humidity levels are high enough, clouds won’t form. This typically happens when pressure systems become imbalanced and warm air sinks rather than rises; when this happens there’s no way for condensation of the water vapor to take place and this leaves it exposed for absorption by airborne pollutants or bacteria that are present; leaving no chance for condensation of its water vapor into condensation droplets to take place and hence no condensation of its water vapor to occur resulting in their formation or formation by atmospheric air pressure system issues or even when pressure system imbalanced when warm air sinks instead rises due to lack of mechanism condensation of condensation taking place from condensation occursing rather than rising due to imbalanced pressure systems as there being no way for condensation of condensation of its water vapor occuring causing it’s effects of rising upwards due to rise rather than rising warm air sinking instead rising up through rising warm air sinking instead rising into this situation as condensation cannot take place due to no mechanism present for condensation of transpiration of condensation of its’ own accord allowing its’ condensation taking place due to lack of condensation occurring under pressure forcing warm air sinking instead rising, leaving nothing in its’ place due to no mechanism allowing condensation of its’ own accord resulting in its effects making its presence due.
Atmospheric conditions that don’t feature wind can also hinder cloud formation. When air movement stops altogether, water droplets cannot form enough to fall as rain or snow (more on this later).
Fog can form without clouds but often appears at lower altitudes. Fog forms when air cools at night and, if moist enough, reaches saturation point through evaporation or condensation and visible water droplets form – giving rise to fog formation. Two main forms of fog exist – radiation fog and advection fog.
As there could be many reasons for no clouds to appear at all, one common explanation could be high air pressure that is sinking instead of rising (an anticyclone or high-pressure system). Another possible explanation could be very low humidity in certain locations – something rare since most environments experience constant high levels.