News - GLOBE Observer
Clouds in a Changing Climate
Did you know that clouds can both warm and cool our planet? Keeping an eye on clouds helps NASA study our climate. You can notice some of these changes by just looking at the clouds.
Here are some examples you might have already noticed:
- Do all clouds cast shadows? Low thick clouds tend to cast the most shadows. The shadows show you how the cloud is blocking the light from the sun from reaching the ground. This is similar to you placing your hand in front of your eyes when it is too sunny. Your hand is blocking the light from reaching your eyes. This is the same as the cloud blocking the light from the sun, and because of this it cools the Earth.
- Is the temperature during cloudy nights the same as during clear nights? During winter time, there is a very strong noticeable difference. At nights, you might notice high stratus clouds lingering through the night. These mid and high level clouds warm the atmosphere. The result is that cloudy nights are not as cold as clear nights.
- Do all cloud types rain? Somehow we can tell if a cloud is about to rain and get the urge to run inside. Usually, these clouds look dark and can get pretty big. Other times, it seems that clouds rain very softly and for a long time. What you’ve noticed are the two cloud types that produce precipitation: cumulonimbus and nimbostratus clouds. Just these two cloud types lead to any type of precipitation. What would happen if you see them more often in your area? What would happen if you see them less? The results would be how clouds impact the climate of your location.
These three examples show how a person and their continued observations of clouds are important to understanding a location’s clouds and its climate.
This January, The GLOBE Program would like to invite you all to take part in a new challenge by taking a look at clouds and climate. During the NASA GLOBE Clouds Challenge: Clouds in a Changing Climate (15 January - 15 February) you can help scientists studying clouds and climate by making cloud observations with the GLOBE Observer app. Plus, for this challenge we also have an alternative form of participation you can do from the comfort of your home. You can help identify clouds online through the Zooniverse project NASA GLOBE CLOUD GAZE.
Why do we need your help? Satellites can only capture a top-down view of our planet. While satellites give us a big picture of climatic cloud effects, they struggle at times to provide a detailed analysis of what's happening in specific locations. For example, it can be challenging to determine how cloud cover is affecting local weather patterns, or whether a particular area is receiving more or less precipitation over time.
We need your ground observations to complement what the satellite cannot see, for example, cloud bases, ground cover, and multiple cloud layers. We also want to match your ground observations of clouds with Earth observing satellites. We would like to get as many satellite matches as possible during this cloud challenge. Help us reach 20K matches by timing your cloud observations! It is easy to do with the GLOBE Observer app since the app lets you know when the satellites will be overhead for you when making cloud observations. Plus, anytime you make an observation that is matched with one made by a satellite you will receive a personalized email from NASA.
The below has a little bit more about the types of satellites you can match with when making cloud observations with the GLOBE Observer app:
- Some satellites are always observing the same location of the Earth. These are referred to as geostationary satellites. All you have to do to get a satellite match is make a cloud observation. If there is data available, you will see the match in the satellite match table sent to you in the NASA personalized email.
- Other satellites observe the entire planet. These are referred to as low Earth orbiting satellites. A match is possible if one of these satellites was overhead within 15 minutes before or after the observation. The GLOBE Program’s GLOBE Observer app can alert you when a satellite will be over your area. You can find this setting in the GLOBE Observer app on the main clouds screen. A new step-by-step video tutorial shows you how to set up notifications for satellite flyovers within the app.
The power of photographs
Plus, knowing what types of clouds and how many clouds are in an area are important to understand the climate. Photographs of the sky and clouds give scientists the opportunity to see locations from your unique perspective. Sky photographs are one of the most requested portions of a GLOBE Clouds observation. This is because there is so much you can do with them. Details within a photograph can be used to compare with satellite data, confirm dust or haze observations, and give insight to unique cloud types like lenticular and noctilucent clouds over the polar regions.
This is how the idea for NASA GLOBE CLOUD GAZE came to be. The project allows participants to look at cloud photographs and help classify them. All photographs were submitted by GLOBE participants through the program’s GLOBE Observer app. While classifying users are asked to identify elements such as the presence or absence of clouds, dust storms, smoke plumes and haze layers.
To take part in the classification portion of this year’s challenge, go to the NASA GLOBE CLOUD GAZE page on the Zooniverse online citizen science platform. There you can learn more about the project and choose between the two interactives: “Cloud Cover” and “What Do You See.” In each interactive, you will go through a quick tutorial and answer a simple question for each photograph that pops up. The “Cloud Cover” interactive asks you to identify what is the total cloud cover observed in the photograph. The “What Do You See” interactive asks you to identify the type of clouds you observe. For both, choose the best selection and submit. It is that easy!
We hope you will plan to join us in January for the NASA GLOBE Cloud Challenge 2022: Clouds in a Changing Climate. As you can see there are multiple ways to participate. In any way that you do participate it will have a large impact in helping us to understand the Earth’s climate. And as a reminder, help us reach our 20K satellite match goal! And continue your observations after the challenge is over to help continue to create a climate dataset.
About the author
Marilé Colón Robles (NASA Langley, SSAI) is the project scientist for NASA GLOBE Clouds and the principal investigator of NASA GLOBE CLOUD GAZE based out of the Science Directorate at NASA Langley Research Center with Science Systems and Applications, Inc. Marilé works with scientists on ways to include citizen science data into research. She also works with students and teachers in the U.S. and around the world on how to engage in real-world STEM activities and in authentic science through the GLOBE Program.