Climate change is an urgent global challenge that demands effective policy responses. However, the uncertainty regarding the degree of global change hinders our ability to address this critical issue efficiently. The University of East Anglia (UEA) has recently led a research that aims to reduce the uncertainty in future climate change based upon the presence of water vapours in the stratosphere. By investigating the impact of water vapour on the stratosphere, this research aims to provide valuable insights into climate change dynamics and the recovery of the ozone layer.
This research carries significant implications for life on Earth and sheds light on the potential impact of man-made climate change. By understanding the role of water vapour in the stratosphere, scientists can better comprehend climate change dynamics and the recovery of the ozone layer.
The stratosphere, located 15 to 50 kilometres above the Earth’s surface, barely sees any cloud formation apart from the polar stratospheric clouds. This happens because it barely has any humidity resulting in the majority of clouds forming in a more humid troposphere which lies just below the stratosphere. The jet streams known as westerlies and easterlies, which are known for influencing the climate, are found in this region of the atmosphere. Therefore, the degree to which water vapours are present in this region can crucially influence the global climate.
Apart from that, this layer also harbours the ozone gas which is quite known as the world’s saviour against the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. Hence, it plays a crucial role in influencing climate patterns and preserving life on Earth.
However, the study, led by Prof. Peer Nowack, predicted increases in water vapour concentration within the stratosphere which pose a risk of amplifying climate change and hampering the recovery of the ozone layer. He said, “Man-made climate change affects Earth’s atmosphere in many important and often surprising ways”. Given the central role of water vapour in the physics and chemistry of the stratosphere, addressing this uncertainty becomes crucial.
“Man-made climate change affects Earth’s atmosphere in many important and often surprising ways”.
The team’s new data-driven approach, which incorporates machine learning principles, enables the effective utilisation of satellite data to reduce uncertainty and improve our understanding of this crucial factor. By using this methodology, they managed to narrow down the range of likely future stratospheric water vapour amounts. The findings, published in the ‘Nature Geoscience’ journal, demonstrate a 50 per cent reduction in the 95th percentile of climate model responses which claimed that the water vapour concentration in the stratosphere could increase by more than 25 per cent.
It challenges many climate model projections that suggest significant increases in stratospheric water vapour under global warming. By effectively utilising Earth observations and data-driven methodologies, the team highlights the inconsistencies between these projections and observational evidence. This groundbreaking research ensures a more accurate understanding of stratospheric water vapour changes, thereby enhancing our ability to predict future climate patterns.
For decades, climate models have projected a wide range of increases in stratospheric water vapour. This uncertainty has significant implications as substantial climate-driven increases in water vapour could delay the recovery of the ozone layer and the Antarctic ozone hole throughout the century. However, the research led by UEA suggests that while stratospheric water vapour concentrations are likely to increase with global warming, the large changes that could substantially impede ozone recovery are highly unlikely. By narrowing down the range of potential outcomes, policymakers can make more informed decisions and implement effective strategies to mitigate the impacts of climate change.