Climate change has reduced the stratosphere by 400 meters: what are the risks

I climate changes catalyzed by human activities can have rather unpredictable consequences on the planet, as the recent research “Polar Drift in the 1990s Explained by Terrestrial Water Storage Changes” published in the scientific journal Geophysical Research Letters has shown. Scientists led by the Chinese Academy of Sciences have indeed shown that it ice melting triggered by the global warming, having redistributed the land mass was able to move even theaxis of rotation of the Earth. A new study has just found that the emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) have shrunk the stratosphere (a layer ofatmosphere between 15 and 50 kilometers of altitude) of 400 meters from the 80s of the last century. If we continue to pollute without significant cuts in emissions, it has been estimated that by 2080 thinning could increase by a further kilometer. This phenomenon could have important effects on the functioning of navigation systems GPS, in the effectiveness of the satellite operations and on radio communications.

To determine that climate change has reduced the thickness of the stratosphere by 400 meters was an international research team led by scientists from the “BOKU” Institute of Meteorology and Climatology in Vienna (Austria) and the Department of Atmospheric Physics of the Charles University (Czech Republic), who collaborated closely with colleagues from the “Lamont Doherty” Earth Observatory of the Columbia University of New York (United States), from the EPhysLab of the University of Vigo (Spain), ‘Institute of Atmospheric Physics (Germany) and other research centers. The scholars, coordinated by Professors Harald E. Rieder and Petr Pisoft, reached their conclusions after analyzing the satellite data collected since the 80s of the last century, combining them with those of complexes climate models. The results showed that they are the greenhouse gases emitted into the troposphere (the lower atmosphere, where we are all immersed) to flow into the stratosphere, reducing its thickness.

The mechanisms involved are two: on the one hand carbon dioxide (CO2) derived from human activities heats and expands the troposphere, which in this way pushes the upper atmospheric layer upwards, on the other hand the carbon emissions, once penetrated into the stratosphere, determine a air cooling and its consequent contraction. The result, as indicated, was a 400-meter reduction in the thickness of the stratosphere; but if we continue at these rates of emissions over the next few decades, there will be a further and significant reduction. “It’s shocking,” Dr Juan Añel, a researcher at the University of Vigo and co-author of the study, told The Guardian. “This study shows that we are interfering with the atmosphere up to 60 kilometers,” added the expert.

Scientists do not yet know what the long-term effects of this reduction might be, but they are aware of potential practical problems here on Earth. “It can affect satellite trajectories, orbital life time, reentry, radio wave propagation and ultimately the overall performance of the Global Positioning System and other space navigation systems,” said the study authors. An interesting aspect lies in the fact that until now it was believed that the contraction of the stratosphere (already detected by previous investigations) was caused by the destruction of the layers of ozone because of the CFC pollutants, but it was actually carbon dioxide that ripped hundreds of meters from it. “This study finds the first observational evidence of the contraction of the stratosphere and shows that the cause is actually our greenhouse gas emissions rather than ozone,” Professor Paul Williams, a lecturer at the University of Reading (UK), told The Guardian ). The details of the research “Stratospheric contraction caused by increasing greenhouse gases” have been published in the specialized scientific journal Environmental Research Letters.

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