Study: Climate emissions shrinking the stratosphere

A newly published study has revealed a new impact from Climate Change, our greenhouse gas emissions are literally shrinking the stratosphere above us.

Published in IOP science on May 5, 2021, the open Access paper titled “Stratospheric contraction caused by increasing greenhouse gases” reveals the details.


The Abstract for the paper explains it as follows …

Rising emissions of anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHG) have led to tropospheric warming and stratospheric cooling over recent decades. As a thermodynamic consequence, the troposphere has expanded and the rise of the tropopause, the boundary between the troposphere and stratosphere, has been suggested as one of the most robust fingerprints of anthropogenic climate change. Conversely, at altitudes above ~55 km (in the mesosphere and thermosphere) observational and modeling evidence indicates a downward shift of the height of pressure levels or decreasing density at fixed altitudes. The layer in between, the stratosphere, has not been studied extensively with respect to changes of its global structure.

Here we show that this atmospheric layer has contracted substantially over the last decades, and that the main driver for this are increasing concentrations of GHG.

Using data from coupled chemistry-climate models we show that this trend will continue and the mean climatological thickness of the stratosphere will decrease by 1.3 km following representative concentration pathway 6.0 by 2080. We also demonstrate that the stratospheric contraction is not only a response to cooling, as changes in both tropopause and stratopause pressure contribute. Moreover, its short emergence time (less than 15 years) makes it a novel and independent indicator of GHG induced climate change.

What exactly is the “stratosphere”?

It is the second layer up.

You have what is called the troposphere. That’s basically 0 to about 20km up. Next is the stratosphere. That’s roughly 20-60km. You can read more about the stratosphere on Wikipedia.


The study authors and others are quoted within a Guardian article that covers this …

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….

…“It may affect satellite trajectories, orbital life-times, and retrievals […] the propagation of radio waves, and eventually the overall performance of the Global Positioning System and other space-based navigational systems,” the researchers said.

Should we be worried?

That’s a big “yes”.


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