Climate change is raising Earth’s lower atmosphere: study

TO study published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Progress of science Earlier this month, it was discovered that Earth’s lower atmosphere has been expanding due to the effects of anthropogenic, or man-made, climate change.

The study measured the height of the atmosphere’s Tropopause, the atmospheric boundary that separates the lowest layer of the atmosphere, the Troposphere, from its second lowest layer, the Stratosphere.

The researchers tracked results spanning the years 1980-2000 and 2000-2020, and found that the tropopause has expanded upward at a rate of about 164 feet (50 meters) per decade.

The findings showed that greenhouse gas emissions are the main culprit for the atmospheric rise. As greenhouse gases continue to trap heat in the atmosphere, the increase has continued at record levels. Air in the atmosphere generally expands in hot climates and decreases in colder climates, so as global temperatures continually rise, the expansion of the troposphere has increased.

Atmospheric rises could potentially force airplanes to fly at higher altitudes to adapt to the rising atmosphere and avoid turbulence, although impacts from the rising troposphere remain unclear to scientists.

A balloon is seen during a demonstration by Israeli startup High Hopes Labs that is developing a balloon that captures carbon directly from the atmosphere at high altitude, in Petah Tikva, Israel, on November 3, 2021 (credit: REUTERS / AMIR COHEN)

“This is an unmistakable sign of changes in atmospheric structure,” said Bill Randel, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and a co-author of the study. “These results provide independent confirmation, in addition to all other evidence for climate change, that greenhouse gases are altering our atmosphere.”

The rate of this acceleration has continually increased decade after decade, according to the study. The tropopause increased 174 feet (53.3 m) per decade between 2001 and 2020, compared to 164 feet (50 m) per decade between 1980 and 2000, a 6% increase in just twenty years.

Researchers also attribute some of the increases to ozone-depleting gases such as chlorofluorocarbons, which are commonly used in refrigerators, air conditioners, foams, and aerosol propellants. Recent restrictions on emissions of gases that deplete the ozone layer have caused atmospheric concentrations of these gases to decline.

“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.”

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