US space agency NASA is sending research aircraft into the Earth’s upper atmosphere to discover to how a warming climate is changing Earth.
The remotely piloted Global Hawk aircraft which can make 30-hour flights will fly as high as 65,000ft above the tropical Pacific Ocean.
Beginning in January the six research flights will study the moisture and chemical make-up of the upper regions of the troposphere, the lowest layer of Earth’s atmosphere.
The research is meant to improve scientists’ understanding of the Earth’s stratosphere, the second major layer of Earth’s atmosphere.
Changes to water vapor and ozone in the stratosphere can have a large impact on Earth’s climate which NASA says is not well understood at the moment.
Studies have shown small changes in this layer’s humidity may have significant climate impacts, NASA says. It believes finding out what happens in “tropical tropopause layer” will help them make predictions about such changes to stratospheric humidity.
Eric Jensen, principal investigator for the Airborne Tropical Tropopause Experiment (ATTREX) at NASA’s Ames Research Centre in California said: “This is our first opportunity to sample the tropopause region during winter in the northern hemisphere when it is coldest and extremely dry air enters the stratosphere.”