Two scientists say their cloud studies may help settle the debate over global warming - is it or isn't it?

Understanding the mixing and dynamics of stratus clouds could determine how clouds help regulate the heat balance of the Earth, said Steven K. Krueger, assistant professor of meteorology, and Patrick A. McMurty, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Utah.The two are undertaking a study funded by the U.S. Office of Naval Research to investigate cloud formation and dissipation.

"Any accurate predictions of global warming depend on increasing our knowledge of how the Earth's climate works," Krueger said.

Researchers worldwide are working to discover the cause of global warming, or the greenhouse effect, which is believed to be caused by the absorption and retention of the sun's radiation in the Earth's atmosphere because of a buildup of carbon dioxide. The result is higher surface temperatures.

The problem with mathematical models now used to study the warming is that the amount of prescribed clouds is not allowed to change, and that's not the way the environment works, Krueger said.

Because the primary focus of their research is on stratus clouds, which occur at about 5,000 feet above sea level, the Navy hopes the Utah scientists will develop models to improve forecasting over subtropical areas.