It’s Actually Cooling, But I’ll Bet You Thought It Was Warming.

blue ice clouds

Science has told us that we are experiencing unprecedented Global Warming. We have evidence that at the least our high temperatures in the Western US have soared to all time record levels much earlier in the Summer season than ever before. You would think that the warming at Earth’s surface would be reflected in an increase in the upper atmospheric temperatures also, but you would be wrong.

A July 1st article from ( titled: “NASA satellites see upper atmosphere cooling and contracting due to climate change” and written by Lina Tran NASA’s Goddard Space flight Center brings to light the latest research concerning the upper atmosphere. It seems that parts of Earth’s atmosphere are slowly contracting as a result of increased greenhouse gas emissions that are human-caused.

Info graphic outlines the layers of Earth’s atmosphere | Image by NASA

Three NASA satellites have combined to produce data that show over the long term that the mesosphere, the layer of the atmosphere that reaches from 30 to 50 miles above the surface is cooling and contracting.

Scott Bailey Virginia Tech | Photo by

The article quotes Scott Bailey, an atmospheric scientist at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia who was the lead researcher in the study: “You need several decades to get a handle on these trends and isolate what’s happening due to greenhouse gas emissions, solar cycle changes, and other effects. We had to put together three satellites’ worth of data.”

James Russell Hampton University | Photo by

Using thirty years of satellite observations it show that the mesosphere that is positioned over the North and South poles is shown to be cooling four to five degrees Fahrenheit and it is shrinking 500 to 650 feet every ten years. The researchers say this will continue if human carbon dioxide emissions remain unchecked and continue to increase. The study was published in the Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-terrestrial Physics and was co-authored by James Russell an atmospheric scientist at at Hampton University in Virginia. Russell is quoted as saying “Down near Earth’s surface, the atmosphere is thick. Carbon dioxide traps the heat just like a quilt traps your body heat and keeps you warm.” He explained that there are a lot of air molecules that are close together in the lower atmosphere that trap and transfer that heat between each other. The result is that the heat reaches upward to the higher and thinner mesosphere where the air molecules are farther apart. Some of that heat escapes and rises where it cools rather than to bond with the carbon dioxide molecules. The result is that the mesosphere cools. The cooling and contracting of the mesosphere was expected, but this study is proof that is actually happening and accelerating.

Noctilucent Clouds | Photo by

One thing that the mesosphere contains is a particular type of cloud. Noctilucent Clouds most often form in the summer. They are brilliant blue ice clouds that are sensitive to temperature and water vapor which makes it easy to see changes in the mesosphere. According to Bailey “We understand the physics of these clouds.” Since these clouds have been behaving oddly the researchers have a better handle on the changes that are occurring.

A final quote from the article itself “In the future, the researchers expect more striking displays of noctilucent clouds that stray farther from the poles. Because this analysis focused on the poles at summertime, Bailey said he plans to examine these effects over longer periods of time and – following the clouds – study a wider stretch of the atmosphere.”

Hopefully future research will better explain what is happening to the mesosphere and give us better ways to counteract these effects.

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].

Tim Chuey is a Member of the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association and has been Awarded Seals of Approval for television weathercasting from both organizations.

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