New research radar allows study of impact of climate change

January 31, 2008

A new research radar based in Antarctica is allowing scientists at the University of Bath to study the impact of climate change on the highest layer of the Earth's atmosphere.

The study is an example of the crucial role that universities play in tackling the issue, which was highlighted by a recent Universities UK report, Greening Spires.

A team from Bath's department of electronic and electrical engineering is testing the theory that, while the lower atmosphere is warming, the upper atmosphere, or mesosphere, is cooling by as much as 1C a year.

Working with the British Antarctic Survey, the scientists have installed a 2m-high radar with six antennas set over an area as large as a football pitch. As part of a global network, it bounces radio waves off tiny meteors entering the upper atmospheres to measure their speed and that of the winds at the edge of space.

The mesosphere, which is about 50 to 62 miles above the planet's surface, is notoriously difficult to investigate, but it is crucial in exploring climate change.

"The mesosphere has been called the miners' canary for climate change: it is very sensitive, and the changes there may be larger than in any other part of the atmosphere,' says Nick Mitchell, who leads the project at Bath.

"Evidence of such changes comes from sightings of unusual clouds in the polar mesosphere, which may mark the onset of long-term cooling of the upper atmosphere."

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