Cirrus clouds are performing a disappearing act which is taking scientists by surprise.
In the global warming debate, it is assumed that temperature rises will lead to more rainfall, which in turn will see an increase in high-altitude cloud cover that will trap infrared heat.
But research on tropical climate systems has found the opposite is happening, with cirrus clouds thinning as the air warms, leading to rapid cooling as infrared heat escapes from the atmosphere to outer space.
Controversially, these new tropical climate findings may force scientists to change their global warming forecasts.
“To give an idea of how strong this enhanced cooling mechanism is, if it was operating on global warming, it would reduce estimates of future warming by over 75 percent,” said Dr. Roy Spencer, of The University of Alabama . “The big question that no one can answer right now is whether this enhanced cooling mechanism applies to global warming.”