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Climate emissions shrinking the stratosphere, scientists reveal


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Climate emissions shrinking the stratosphere, scientists reveal

Humanity’s enormous emissions of greenhouse gases are shrinking the stratosphere, a new study has revealed.

The thickness of the atmospheric layer has contracted by 400 metres since the 1980s, the researchers found, and will thin by about another kilometre by 2080 without major cuts in emissions. The changes have the potential to affect satellite operations, the GPS navigation system and radio communications.

The discovery is the latest to show the profound impact of humans on the planet. In April, scientists showed that the climate crisis had shifted the Earth’s axis as the massive melting of glaciers redistributes weight around the globe.

The stratosphere extends from about 20km to 60km above the Earth’s surface. Below is the troposphere, in which humans live, and here carbon dioxide heats and expands the air. This pushes up the lower boundary of the stratosphere. But, in addition, when CO2 enters the stratosphere it actually cools the air, causing it to contract.

The earth’s atmosphere consists of several layers, with the troposphere at the bottom. The measurements indicated here are approximate and can vary enormously according to time of year, or position in relation to the earth.

The shrinking stratosphere is a stark signal of the climate emergency and the planetary-scale influence that humanity now exerts, according to Juan Añel, at the University of Vigo, Ourense in Spain and part of the research team. “It is shocking,” he said. “This proves we are messing with the atmosphere up to 60 kilometres.”

Scientists already knew the troposphere was growing in height as carbon emissions rose and had hypothesised that the stratosphere was shrinking. But the new study is the first to demonstrate this and shows it has been contracting around the globe since at least the 1980s, when satellite data was first gathered.

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They were successful in scaring us about the ozone "hole", so why not try again with the stratosphere?

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