Preface: Our approach is to build bridges in the climate debate (see the postscript, below). But one of our duties as investigative journalists is to debunk unscientific claims, from whichever side they come from. This article helps to debunk one particular recent claim about global cooling.
Numerous websites have claimed that a new scientific paper by a high-level NASA scientist proves that the Earth is entering into a planetary cooling period.
Specifically, the paper says that reduced solar activity will likely lead to a substantial cooling in the Earth’s thermosphere … a layer of the atmosphere high above the Earth.
Should run out and buy warmer clothes?
Even though I studied environmental science at a good university as an undergraduate, I had no idea whether a cooling thermosphere would mean:
(1) It will get cooler down here on the surface of the Earth (the bottom portion of the atmospheric layer called the “troposphere”)
(2) There is no correlation
(3) As one wannabe “expert” proclaimed on the Internet, a cooler thermosphere will lead to a warmer climate on the surface
So Washington’s Blog asked one of the co-authors of the study, Dr. James Russell to help us understand what the study means …
Russell is a Professor of Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences and Co-Director of the Center for Atmospheric Sciences at Hampton University in Virginia. He received his PhD in “aeronomy” – the physics and chemistry of the upper atmosphere of planets – from the University of Michigan, and served as head of the Chemistry and Dynamics Branch and the Theoretical Studies Branch in the NASA Langley Atmospheric Sciences Division.
Dr. Russell told us:
My short answer is the cooling effects we are seeing in Earth’s thermosphere are a result of the current solar minimum conditions. The thermosphere is the layer of Earth’s atmosphere 65 miles above Earth’s surface and is highly sensitive to solar activity. There is no relationship between the natural cycle of cooling and warming in the thermosphere and the weather/climate at Earth’s surface.
I hope this helps clear up this serious misunderstanding. The recently published findings from analysis of SABER data by Mlynczak et al. (2018) do not imply there is a problem with global warming observations at the earth surface. There is no connection between the thermospheric and ground level observational results.
Postscript: Many who are worried about global warming are promoting actions that actually may do more harm than good:
- Former NRC Commissioner: Trying To Solve Global Warming By Building Nuclear Power Plants Is Like Trying To Solve Global Hunger By Serving Everyone Caviar
- Carbon Trading Giants and Big Energy Are Both Trying to Steer the Global Warming Debate Away from REAL Solutions
- Whatever You Think of Global Warming … Fascism is Not Cool
For my ideas on common ground on climate, please see: