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Record Collapse of Earth's Upper Atmosphere
"It's a Space Age record"
15 Jul 10 - An upper layer of the earth's atmosphere, the thermosphere, recently experienced an unexpectedly large contraction, NASA announced Thursday.
The collapse happened during the deep solar minimum of 2008-2009. Researchers had expected the contraction, because the thermosphere always cools and contracts when solar activity is low. In this case, however, the magnitude of the collapse was two to three times greater than low solar activity could explain.
"This is the biggest contraction of the thermosphere in at least 43 years," says John Emmert of the Naval Research Lab, lead author of a paper in the June 19th issue of the Geophysical Research Letters. "It's a Space Age record."
"Something is going on that we do not understand," says Emmert.
Is this sort of, perhaps, maybe, an admission that solar forces - not
Lately, solar activity has been very low. In 2008 and 2009, the sun plunged into a century-class solar minimum. Sunspots were scarce, solar flares almost non-existent, and solar EUV radiation was at a low ebb. Researchers immediately turned their attention to the thermosphere to see what would happen.
Emmert discovered that the thermospheric collapse of 2008-2009 was not only bigger than any previous collapse, but also bigger than the sun alone could explain.
One possible explanation is carbon dioxide (CO2).
When carbon dioxide gets into the thermosphere, it acts as a coolant (italics added), shedding heat via infrared radiation. It is widely-known that CO2 levels have been increasing in Earth's atmosphere. Extra CO2 in the thermosphere could have magnified the cooling action of solar minimum.
CO2 acts as a coolant?
But "even when we take CO2 into account using our best understanding of how it operates as a coolant, we cannot fully explain the thermosphere's collapse," says Emmert.
According to Emmert and colleagues, low solar EUV accounts for about 30% of the collapse. Extra CO2 accounts for at least another 10%. That leaves as much as 60% unaccounted for.
"The density anomalies," they wrote, "may signify that an as-yet-unidentified climatological tipping point ... has been reached."
Or maybe not.
Solar minimum is now coming to an end, EUV radiation is on the rise, and the thermosphere is puffing up again. Exactly how the recovery proceeds could unravel the contributions of solar vs. terrestrial sources.
"We will continue to monitor the situation," says Emmert.
See entire article by
Dr. Tony Phillips, including graphs: (Credit: Science@NASA)
"I guess there must be a link to this atmospheres collapse and the
"Wow, they CAN have it both ways," says Troy. "CO2 heats up the earth's atmosphere AND cools the thermosphere by radiating back into space the suns output ......... Hmmmmm, imagine that........have your cake and eat it too"
"I also thought C02 is heavier that air, (At standard temperature and
"It defies gravity, chemistry and physics all at the same time?
Troy A. Della Fiora
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