Adding cloud data to climate models must be long overdue if it’s considered to be a new technique. Scientists were surprised to find that doing so accounted for over half the strength of El Niños, as Phys.org reports:
A small team of researchers from the U.S., Australia and Germany has found evidence that suggests cloud formation may have a much bigger impact on weather patterns associated with El Niño events than has been thought.
In their paper published in the journal Nature Geoscience, the team describes they differences they found when they input cloud data into computer models that simulated weather patterns associated with El Niño events and why they now believe that all such models should include such data going forward.
Scientists predicted that El Niño weather events would be more severe this winter compared to recent events, and thus far, their predictions have proved to be true—temperatures have fluctuated wildly in parts of Europe and the U.S. along with associated rain events, leading to serious flooding. In this new effort, the researchers have found that cloud formation may have more influence on such weather events than has been thought.
The El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) as it is known formally, causes the most weather variability on a small time scale, and attracts an enormous amount of attention due to associated changes in rain patterns—the western parts of the U.S. and the northern parts of South America, for example, typically see more than normal amounts of rainfall, while parts of Africa experience droughts.
As scientists struggle to truly understand global weather patterns associated with ENSO, they debate the degree of impact of oceanic processes versus those that occur in the atmosphere. In this new effort, the researchers suggest that the atmosphere may exert much more of an impact on ENSO events than has been thought, due in large part, to cloud formations which can serve as a blanket of sorts, preventing warm air from escaping from lower elevations, which can lead to more rainfall.
To better understand the impact of cloud formations on ENSO weather events, the researchers input cloud data into standard climate models and compared the results with models running under the same conditions without cloud data. They report that they were surprised to find that the cloud formation data caused large changes to atmospheric circulation patterns and accounted for more than half of the strength of ENSO events.
They suggest their findings indicate that all future climate models include cloud data so that they can offer a better representation of real events, and thus, give better predictions.