Clouds: The Wild Card of Climate Change

SF Releases Online, Multi-Media Package Featuring University of Miami Researcher Amy Clement


MIAMI — October 29, 2010 — As discussions about climate change rage on, one critical factor about this phenomenon has, with few exceptions, failed to capture the media attention it deserves: the important but enigmatic role of clouds in climate change. The role of clouds is important because at any given time about 70 percent of the Earth is covered by clouds. And the role of clouds is enigmatic because clouds can exert opposing forces: Some types of clouds help cool the Earth and some types of clouds help warm the Earth. Which effect will win out as our climate continues to change? So far, no one is certain.

In order to help clear the air on clouds, the National Science Foundation (NSF) is releasing an online, multimedia package on the role of clouds on climate change, entitled, “Clouds: The Wild Card of Climate Change.” It addresses such pressing questions as: Will clouds speed or slow climate change? Why is cloud behavior so difficult to predict? And how are scientists learning about the behavior of these ephemeral, ever-changing, high-altitude phenomena?

The package will include an interview with Amy Clement, professor of meteorology and physical oceanography at the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science. Clement the recipient of the 2007 American Geophysical Union Macelwane Award and the 2007 American Meteorological Society Clarence Leroy Meisinger Award for her work on climate change. Her research on clouds, conducted in collaboration with researchers Robert Burgman (UM) and Joel Norris (Scripps) was published in Science in July 2009. Using observational data collected over the last 50 years and climate models, the team established that low-level stratiform clouds appear to dissipate as the ocean warms, indicating that changes in these clouds could accelerate the warming due to man-made greenhouse gases.

“There is somewhat of a vicious cycle between clouds and ocean temperature potentially exacerbating global warming,” said Clement. “But our findings provide a new way of looking at clouds changes. This can help to improve the simulation of clouds in climate models, which will lead to more accurate projections of future climate changes. ”

“Clouds: The Wild Card of Climate Change” features:

  • a live webcast with cloud and climate expert: David Randall, director of the Center for Multiscale Modeling of Atmospheric Processes and a professor of atmospheric science at Colorado State University;
  • informative, easy-to-understand texts;
  • eye-catching photos and video;
  • dynamic animations;
  • enlightening interviews with cloud researchers, including Clement; and
  • downloadable documents.

About the University of Miami and its Rosenstiel School
The University of Miami’s mission is to educate and nurture students, to create knowledge, and to provide service to our community and beyond. Committed to excellence and proud of the diversity of our University family, we strive to develop future leaders of our nation and the world. Founded in the 1940’s, the Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science has grown into one of the world’s premier marine and atmospheric research institutions. Offering dynamic interdisciplinary academics, the Rosenstiel School is dedicated to helping communities to better understand the planet, participating in the establishment of environmental policies, and aiding in the improvement of society and quality of life. For more information, please visit

THE REPORT IS AVAILABLE FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE. The package provides a wealth of information to reporters, policymakers, scientists, educators, the public and students of all levels. It will be posted on NSF’s website at

Media Contacts:

Barbra Gonzalez
UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
Marie Guma-Diaz
UM Media Relations Office

dr. amy clement •  climate change •  clouds •  national science foundation •