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Study: Clouds losing altitude globally

Study: Clouds losing altitude globally
A satellite image shows clouds covering the northern half of the North America. Credit: National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

WASHINGTON, Feb. 23 (UPI) -- Researchers say the sky is falling, after a fashion, as data from a U.S. satellite show clouds around the world are losing altitude.

If future observations confirm that as a trend, it could have an important effect on global climate change, they said.

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"We don't know exactly what causes the cloud heights to lower," researcher Roger Davies of the University of Auckland in New Zealand said. "But it must be due to a change in the circulation patterns that give rise to cloud formation at high altitude."

Researchers said clouds that are lower in the atmosphere would more efficiently cool the planet and could possibly offset some global warming caused by greenhouse gases, LiveScience.com reported.

Davies and his colleagues have analyzed 10 years of data from the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer on NASA's Terra spacecraft and found that global average cloud height decreased by around 1 percent from 2000 to 2010, a distance of 100 to 300 feet.

Most of the reduction stemmed from fewer clouds forming at very high altitudes, the researchers reported in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

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