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WARNING! The sky has been falling for 10 years

Last updated on: February 27, 2012 11:27 IST

WARNING! The sky has been falling for 10 years

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It seems the sky above your head is falling gradually, as scientists have found that the height of clouds has been shrinking over the last 10 years.

The time frame is short, but if future observations show that clouds are truly getting lower, it could have an important effect on global climate change, researchers said.

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Photographs: Lucas Jackson/Reuters

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WARNING! The sky has been falling for 10 years

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Clouds that are lower in the atmosphere would allow Earth to cool more efficiently, potentially offsetting some of the warming caused by greenhouse gases, they pointed out.

"We don't know exactly what causes the cloud heights to lower," study researcher Roger Davies, of the University of Auckland in New Zealand, was quoted as saying by LiveScience.

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Photographs: Amir Cohen/Reuters

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WARNING! The sky has been falling for 10 years

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"But it must be due to a change in the circulation patterns that give rise to cloud formation at high altitude," he said.

Clouds are a wildcard in understanding Earth's climate. Ephemeral as they are, they are difficult to track over time, and factors such as height and location make a big difference in whether clouds will slow the effects of global warming or exacerbate them, the researchers said.

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Photographs: Andy Clark/Reuters

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WARNING! The sky has been falling for 10 years

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No one fully understands how clouds will respond to a warming climate. But the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer on NASA's Terra spacecraft has been watching Earth's clouds for over a decade.

Now, Davies and his colleagues have analysed the device's first ten years of cloud-top height measurements from March 2000 to February 2010.

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Photographs: Larry Downing/Reuters

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WARNING! The sky has been falling for 10 years

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They found that the global average cloud height decreased by around one per cent over the decade, a distance of 100 to 130 feet. Most of the reduction stemmed from fewer clouds forming at very high altitudes.

The Terra satellite is set to continue collecting data through the rest of this decade, which will help determine whether or not the cloud lowering is a consistent trend, the researchers reported in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

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Photographs: Eric Gaillard/Reuters

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