New study changes what we know about the pre-industrial atmosphere – and how we predict future climate change.
The pre-industrial atmosphere contained more particles, and so brighter clouds, than we previously thought. This is the latest finding of the CLOUD experiment, a collaboration between around 80 scientists at the CERN particle physics lab near Geneva. It changes our understanding of what was in the atmosphere before humans began adding pollution – and what it might be like again in the future. Most cloud droplets need tiny airborne particles to act as “seeds” for their formation and growth. If a cloud has more of these seeds, and therefore more droplets, it will appear brighter and reflect away more sunlight from the Earth’s surface. This in turn can cool the climate. Therefore understanding the number and size of particles in the atmosphere is vital to predicting not only how bright and reflective the planet’s clouds are, but what global temperatures will be.