Researchers from the University of Exeter have determined that a temperature asymmetry exists in our planet’s warming as it rotates on its axis. This research is published in Global Change Biology.
Our nights are warming at a faster rate than our days, and this could impact many species.
We have three decades of temperature data; from almost every location, including the poles and the oceans. The records span from 1983 to 2017, providing the research team with an enormous database of six-hourly surface temperature readings. This virtually covers the entire planet during some of the warmest years since the record-keeping began.
The average annual night-time temperature was a quarter of a degree Celsius more than that of the day across more than half of the planet’s land surface. However, in a few spots, the days warmed considerably while the night-time temperatures remain almost the same. And in a few, nights were colder.
A quarter of a degree increase per year might sound insignificant, but this could add up and significantly affect the ecology over time.
According to ecologist and the lead author of this study, Daniel Cox from the University of Exeter, species that are only active at night or during the day will be particularly affected by this temperature increase.
The research team also collected other climate-related data, such as humidity and precipitation, and compared regional vegetation differences. They found that the imbalance in heating could be caused by something as simple as more cloud cover.
During the day, clouds do a great job reflecting certain wavelengths of light from the Sun, preventing the planet from getting roasted. At night, the same process is reversed; it helps trap the heat radiating from the surface, keeping the temperatures warm. The chillness we feel on a winter night is due to the lack of adequate cloud cover.
Let’s consider only the regional variation. Changes in temperature variation between night and day for a location could significantly impact the rainfall. The amount of rain determines how well vegetation thrives in a particular region.
An increase in rain is good for the plants; however, the extra cloud during the day could affect the amount of light these plants need to conduct photosynthesis. And in turn, this impacts the species that depend on these plants.
It will take a lot more research to understand the full impact of daily temperature fluctuations and cloud formation. When we consider the greenhouse gases, dust levels in the atmosphere, and other less Earth-bound variables, clouds can be a surprisingly complex phenomenon.
In our efforts to limit the rise in temperatures, we are unsure if clouds play a major role or not.
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