The Cloud Observatory on Barbados
Shallow cumulus, such as those found in the trade-winds of the North Atlantic are perhaps the predominant cloud type on the planet. They might also be the simplest. Surprisingly large gaps in our understanding of these clouds still remain. For instance, how might they change in response to global warming? Or how do their properties depend on perturbations to the atmospheric aerosol? Because shallow cumulus play a key role in modulating the flux of radiant energy to the surface ocean, as well as the rate of evaporation of water into the atmosphere these questions are central to our understanding of the climate system, and our ability to predict climate change.
In many ways our lack of understanding can be tied to a simple lack of data. Shallow marine clouds are difficult to measure from space, and ground based measurement systems are clustered either in the mid-latitudes or deep tropics, where shallow cumulus are less frequent. By establishing a cloud observatory on the Island of Barbados, the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg together with the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology in Barbados and several other participating institutions are making the measurements required to help answer long standing questions about the statistical properties of these clouds and their link to our changing climate.
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