Satellite observations suggest that when surface temperatures of the western tropical Pacific warm up, the area of heat-trapping cirrus clouds surrounding low-altitude rainstorms decreases. It's an atmospheric phenomenon that some researchers think could ease the greenhouse effect.
The researchers who discovered this effect liken it to a thermostatically controlled vent that releases energy into space when Earth's temperatures build up. If confirmed by additional research, this heat-venting process could help reduce estimates of future global warming, they say. It hadn't shown up in global-climate models tested by the scientists.
Led by Richard S. Lindzen, a meteorologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the researchers analyzed 20 months of high-resolution satellite data obtained for tropical latitudes from Australia and southern Japan eastward to near the Hawaiian Islands.
For every 1C rise in ocean temperature beneath a cloudy region, the ratio of