Fears of the apocalypse were inflamed after NASA satellites made a startling discovery about the state of our planet’s atmosphere.
Data collected from three NASA satellites revealed that the planet’s atmosphere has been shrinking at a rate of about 500 feet to 650 feet per year over the past 30 years.
The mesosphere extends between 30 and 50 miles above the planet’s surface, and is much thinner than the layer of the atmosphere in which we live – the troposphere. Scientists attributed this worrying phenomenon to the effects of climate change, and unless any action is taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on the planet, it is expected to continue.
“Near the surface of the Earth, the atmosphere is thick. Carbon dioxide traps heat just like a quilt traps body heat and keeps you warm,” said study co-author James Russell and an atmospheric scientist at Hampton University in Virginia.
This finding is concerning because it indicates that more heat from the surface is making its way into the upper parts of the atmosphere.
Once there, any heat captured by the carbon dioxide (CO2) molecules is lost to space, causing the air to cool and contract. An increase in carbon dioxide, which is very efficient at absorbing heat, means more heat is lost to space.
NASA likened the effect to the balloon shrinking when placed in the freezer.
And this isn’t the only troubling discovery that scientists have made. According to a new report published in Science Advances, the lower parts of the planet’s atmosphere have risen by up to 200 feet (60 meters) per year for the past 20 years.
Researchers at the University of Toronto in Canada made the discovery in the troposphere, the lowest layer of Earth’s protective air bubble.
The troposphere is essential to sustain life on Earth, as it hosts the oxygen we breathe and about 85% of the total mass of the atmosphere.
However, it appears that human activity has also affected this part of the atmosphere.
Typically, the troposphere is warmer near the Earth’s surface and the mercury drops as the thermometers rise, until it reaches the stratosphere, which is home to the ozone layer, which traps heat and causes temperatures to rise again.
But scientists fear that climate change and the effects of global warming will shift the temperature balance upwards in the troposphere.
According to Jin Liu, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Toronto, volcanic eruptions and hurricanes can affect the height of the troposphere.
However, she said, “But in the long run, the two most important factors are the temperature of the troposphere and the stratosphere.”
The uncontrolled combustion of fossil fuels since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution has caused global temperatures to rise at an alarming rate.
NASA estimates the planet has warmed at just over 1°C (2°F) since 1880, and many projections suggest that global warming will continue unless something is done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4), are pumped into the atmosphere where they trap heat and cause the troposphere to rise.
A new study shows that the troposphere rose at roughly the same rates between 1980 and 2000, and 2000 and 2020 – about 164 feet (50 meters) per decade.
“All the observational data over this four-decade time period tells us the same thing,” Liu said. “This is a clear and strong indication of increasing tropospheric height.”
The expert added that this could have dire consequences for the planet.
Changes in the troposphere can affect the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere, which in turn can further affect Earth’s surface temperatures.
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