How Climate Change Could Cool Earth’s Upper Atmosphere

If global warming is happening, how can the Earth’s atmosphere get colder?

In some ways, this question echoes another of climate change skeptics: If global warming is happening, why is it colder in some places than in previous years? On the one hand, time and seasons always happen. At the same time, colder weather in some areas is countered by warmer temperatures in other places, and research suggests that global warming could actually release trapped cold air.

Likewise, even as the lower atmosphere warms, a new study discovered that the Earth’s upper atmosphere is actually cooling down due to increased levels of carbon dioxide and changes in the magnetic field.


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“The increased concentration of CO2 is the main cause of cooling in the upper atmosphere, while the effects of magnetic field changes also play a role near the poles, especially in the northern hemisphere,” concluded Ingrid Cnossen , member of the British Antarctic Survey and author of the study.

While the troposphere, the layer closest to Earth, cools down as you move up, the next level – the stratosphere – actually warms up as you get closer to the sun. Even the upper layers, including the mesosphere and thermosphere, are generally cold, but the study found that temperatures had fallen further in all three layers.

It’s not clear whether global warming, which affects the troposphere, is causing the cooling of the upper layers, Cnossen said, but these effects of climate change could have serious consequences on everything from melting glaciers to the ability of humans to fly.


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