Particulates like those recently spewed into earth’s atmosphere by the Icelandic volcano, similar to those from aerosols, car exhausts and smokestacks at power plants and factories, can affect our weather and may hasten global warming.

Prof. Colin Price of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Geophysics and Planetary Science recently published data in the journal Geophysical Research Letters on lightning patterns in the Amazon.

His findings demonstrate how clouds are affected by particulate matter. Once a certain level of particulates is reached, “the clouds just dry up,” he says. His findings have significant implications for polluted regions of the world that rely on rainfall for agriculture and could be used by climate change researchers trying to understand the impact of pollution on global weather patterns.

While low levels of particulate matter actually help the development of thunderstorms, the reverse is true once a certain concentration is reached – the particles then inhibit the formation of clouds and thunderstorms.

How clouds and storms change in response to air pollution is central to the debate about climate change and global warming, since clouds deflect the sun’s rays, cooling the Earth’s climate.

If we change the duration of cloud cover, the aerial coverage of clouds, or the brightness of clouds, we can significantly impact the climate.

Price’s study is the first of its kind that uses lightning as a quantitative way to measure the impact of air pollution on cloud development over a large area, and across a number of years.