Thermosphere is Cooling, Bad for Satellites. Thermosphere is Heating, Bad for Satellites.

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From Watts Up With That?

There’s a long running joke about stories with the structure: world will end tomorrow women and minorities hurt the most. Either that or heads I win tails you lose after reading the following two articles.

Going through emails today I received a tip about this story from Tom F

In an article in Yale 360 about a new study, Exceptional stratospheric contribution to human fingerprints on atmospheric temperature by our old friend Ben Santer, atmospheric scientist Martin Mlynczak, an atmospheric physicist at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, amplifies Santer’s concerns about the cooling, shrinking thermosphere.

Santer just knows that these observations prove the accuracy of climate models. All emphasis mine.

new study published in May in the journal PNAS by veteran climate modeler Ben Santer of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution found that it increased the strength of the “signal” of the human fingerprint of climate change fivefold, by reducing the interference “noise” from background natural variability. Santer says the finding is “incontrovertible.”

But the new discoveries about the scale of cooling aloft are leaving atmospheric physicists with new worries — about the safety of orbiting satellites, about the fate of the ozone layer, and about the potential of these rapid changes aloft to visit sudden and unanticipated turmoil on our weather below.

Santer has been searching for that fingerprint for close to three decades. He has a lot time invested in finding it, from 1996:

The observed spatial patterns of temperature change in the free atmosphere from 1963 to 1987 are similar to those predicted by state-of-the-art climate models incorporating various combinations of changes in carbon dioxide, anthropogenic sulphate aerosol and stratospheric ozone concentrations. The degree of pattern similarity between models and observations increases through this period. It is likely that this trend is partially due to human activities, although many uncertainties remain, particularly relating to estimates of natural variability. July 4th, 1996

It is worth reading a takedown of Santer’s 1996 paper by the now deceased John Daly.

Mlynczak noted on May 18th in the Yale 360 article:

Above the stratosphere, Mlynczak found that the mesosphere and lower thermosphere contracted by almost 4,400 feet between 2002 and 2019. Part of this shrinking was due to a short-term decline in solar activity that has since ended, but 1,120 feet of it was due to cooling caused by the extra CO2, he calculates.

This contraction means the upper atmosphere is becoming less dense, which in turn reduces drag on satellites and other objects in low orbit — by around a third by 2070, calculates Ingrid Cnossen, a research fellow at the British Antarctic Survey.

On the face of it, this is good news for satellite operators. Their payloads should stay operational for longer before falling back to Earth. But the problem is the other objects that share these altitudes. The growing amount of space junk — bits of equipment of various sorts left behind in orbit — are also sticking around longer, increasing the risk of collisions with currently operational satellites.

Continuing through my tip emails today reader yirgach alerted me to this story at


If you’re a satellite, this story is important. A series of geomagnetic storms in 2023 has pumped terawatts of energy into Earth’s upper atmosphere, helping to push its temperature and height to a 20-year high. Air surrounding our planet is now touching satellites in Earth orbit and dragging them down.

Only three weeks after the previous article Mlynczak says.

“Blame the sun,” says Martin Mlynczak of NASA Langley. “Increasing solar activity is heating the top of the atmosphere. The extra heat has no effect on weather or climate at Earth’s surface, but it’s a big deal for satellites in low Earth orbit.”

“Right now we’re seeing some of the highest readings in the mission’s 21.5 year history,” he says.

The story continues.

If current trends continue, the thermosphere will warm even more in 2023 and 2024.

Thermospheric cooling, it’s CO2 and climate models are proved again, bad for satellites.

Thermospheric warming, it’s that damn sun and its storms, bad for satellites.

All change is bad. Everything must remain exactly the same.

I have no doubt that an expanding thermosphere is VERY bad for low altitude orbiting satellites. I just love the rationalization that a shrinking one was bad, cuz humans did it guvner.

HT’s to yirgach and Tom F