Cloud physics could be the key to understanding climate change

It’s raining above Dominica, and cloud physics can’t quite explain why.

Clouds are far more important to the environment than you may think. Not only do they provide some sunburn protection for the fair-skinned and produce rain for crops, but they also act as a buffer for the sun’s radiation and insulate the globe’s heat. This means that understanding how and why they form is essential to predicting, modeling, and perhaps even controlling climate change.

Nestled in the Caribbean Sea about 600 kilometers (370 miles) north-east of Venezuela (and not to be confused with the larger Dominican Republic to its northwest), Dominica is known for lots and lots of rain.

“It is situated in the Caribbean with no islands or terrain upwind or downwind of it,” says Alison Nugent, who did her PhD on the project and is now an assistant professor of Atmospheric Sciences at SOEST. “So you know that whatever happens on the island happens because of the island and nothing else.” This makes Dominica easier to study than mountains situated in the middle of a continent, for example.

“Precipitation is really, really important to life on Earth,” Nugent adds. “Where and how much precipitation falls defines climate regions (think rainforest vs desert) and where humans, plants, and animals can thrive. Clouds are the gatekeepers to precipitation.”

Read the full story on Quartz.