Earth’s atmosphere is rising due to climate change, a new study shows.
Weather balloon measurements, taken in the Northern Hemisphere over the past 40 years, reveal that the lowest layer of Earth’s atmosphere, called the troposphere, has expanded upward at a speed of about 164 feet (50 meters) per decade, and climate change is the cause, according to findings published Nov. 5 in the journal Science Advances.
“This is an unmistakable sign of changes in atmospheric structure,” study co-author Bill Randel, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, said in a statement. “These results provide independent confirmation, in addition to all other evidence for climate change, that greenhouse gases are altering our atmosphere.”
Related: 10 Signs Earth’s Climate Is Off The Rails
The troposphere is the layer of the atmosphere that we live and breathe. It extends from sea level to an elevation ranging from 4.3 miles (7 kilometers) over the poles to 12.4 miles (20 km) over the tropics. As the layer of atmosphere that contains the most heat and moisture, it is also where a great deal of atmospheric weather occurs.
Air in the atmosphere expands when it’s hot and contracts when it’s cold, so the upper limit of the troposphere, called the tropopause, naturally contracts and expands with the change of seasons.
But by analyzing atmospheric data such as pressure, temperature and humidity, taken between 20 and 80 degrees north latitude, and matching it with GPS data, the researchers showed that as increasing amounts of greenhouse gases trap more heat in the atmosphere , the tropopause increases further. than ever before.
What’s more, the rate of increase appears to be increasing. According to the study, while the tropopause increased approximately 164 feet (50 m) per decade between 1980 and 2000, that increase rose to 174 feet (53.3 m) per decade between 2001 and 2020. Taking into account natural events in their study region, such as two volcanic eruptions in the 1980s and the El Niño newspaper warming the Pacific in the late 1990s, the researchers nonetheless estimated that human activity accounted for 80% of the total increase in the atmospheric height.
Climate change is not the only driver of the man-made increase in tropopause. The stratosphere, the layer above the troposphere, is also shrinking, thanks to the past release of ozone-depleting gases. These gases shrunk the stratosphere by destroying the stratospheric ozone layer, although restrictions on their emission in more recent years have caused atmospheric concentrations of these gases to decline.
Scientists are still not sure how an increased tropopause will influence climate or weather, although it could force planes to fly higher in the atmosphere to avoid turbulence.
“The study captures two important ways that humans are changing the atmosphere,” Randel said. “The height of the tropopause is increasingly affected by greenhouse gas emissions, even as society has successfully stabilized conditions in the stratosphere by restricting ozone-depleting chemicals.”
Originally posted on Live Science.
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