Silver Linings: Climate Change Is Resulting in More Rainbows
A new study from researchers at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa says that, in certain locations, the increase rainfall caused by climate change could lead to more rainbows. Here's what you need to know.
Extreme weather, disappearing crabs, a steep decrease in wildlife—climate change is the pits. So, when we're told that some of that hideousness may come with an extra ounce of whimsical color, we will definitely take it.
According to a recent study led by researchers at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa, we could see a 5% increase in rainbows by 2100.
"Living in Hawai'i, I felt grateful that stunning, ephemeral rainbows were a part of my daily life," says the lead author of the study, Kimberly Carlson, who is now at New York University's Department of Environmental Studies. "I wondered how climate change might affect such rainbow-viewing opportunities."
The answer, it seems, could be significant, resulting in more rainbow days for certain regions, and several fewer for others.
What Is a Rainbow?
To begin, let's revisit some very basic rainbow-ology.
A rainbow is an optical illusion caused by the reflection and refraction of light within water. Light enters said water, refracts, and is reflected by the back of the liquid. When sunlight hits a drop of water and that interaction is viewed from an angle of 42 degrees, a human being will see an arc of multi-colored light.
Rainbows shift depending on both your angle and that of the sun. Because of this, no one experiences a rainbow in exactly the same way. The overall visibility of the phenomenon is also affected by rainfall and cloud cover, which is where climate change enters the chat.
Why Could Climate Change Cause More Rainbows?
Photo: Global Environmental Change
Using publicly available images of rainbows, the team at UH Manoa created a predictive model based on locations, rainfall, cloud cover, and the angle of the sun. They then applied those learnings to present and future scenarios.
Findings indicated that locations where global warming is predicted to reduce snow but increase rain—northern latitudes and elevations—will experience rainbow gains, while areas with reduced rainfall will see less of the skyward showings. Islands are slated to remain a rainbow hotspot.
TLDR: More rain, more rainbows.
"Climate change will generate pervasive changes across all aspects of the human experience on Earth," says Carlson. "Shifts in intangible parts of our environment—such as sound and light—are part of these changes and deserve more attention from researchers."
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