UK scientists are embarking on a project called EUREC4A that is designed to understand the processes controlling the response of trade-wind cumulus clouds to changing environmental conditions in a warmer climate.

Clouds play an important role in our climate by reflecting sunlight and absorbing heat emitted from the Earth’s surface. Therefore, the response to global warming of these clouds is critical for global mean cloud feedbacks.

At the moment, there is uncertainty about how clouds are responding to global warming, particularly those found at low levels over the tropical oceans.

The project team involves researchers at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS), the Universities of Leeds and Manchester, the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), and the Met Office. Based out of Barbados in early 2020, this team will begin to make measurements of trade-wind clouds using three research aircraft, satellite remote sensing, and an array of ships and drones. Trade winds are the prevailing pattern of surface winds from the east toward the west (easterly) in the tropics.

BAS twin otter 800 px

Professor Alan Blyth, senior NCAS scientist based at the University of Leeds, explains:

The UK-based EUREC4A scientists will in particular study the detailed aerosol, cloud and precipitation processes in the life cycle of shallow trade cumulus clouds during the field campaign. They’ll use the BAS Twin Otter aircraft and University of Manchester aerosol instruments to be based at Ragged Point in Barbados.”

Combining their measurement data with state-of-the-art high-resolution computer modelling, the team will be able to contribute to an international initiative aimed at understanding the behaviour of these clouds and their role in projections of future climate.

Global warming is already impacting living systems and human activities, and EUREC4A’s efforts will help to understand changing environmental conditions in a warmer climate. 

The EUREC4A scientists are also supported by the Barbados Cloud Observatory and the Caribbean Meteorological Organisation (CMO), which will supply surface-based observations and bespoke weather forecasts for the Barbados region.