Learning about climate from the atmosphere

What does studying the atmosphere teach us about the climate?

Our atmosphere is made up of a blanket of gases surrounding the planet. It helps protect and keep us warm – and studying it can give us helpful information about the climate and how it changes.

The air around us is all part of the atmosphere – and without it, there wouldn’t be any life on Earth at all.

The Earth’s atmosphere is made up of layers of gases. These include nitrogen – a gas which is harmless to humans, and oxygen – which almost all life needs to live. It also contains gases like carbon dioxide which trap the Sun’s heat and help keep the planet warm enough for life – a bit like a blanket.

You’ve probably heard of something called the Greenhouse effect – it’s another way to describe the effect that the blanket of gases has. Without the greenhouse effect, the Earth would be, on average, more than 30 degrees colder than it is today – way too cold for life to survive! Brrr!

Gases that help trap the heat are called ‘greenhouse gases’. But scientists studying the atmosphere have shown that some human activities, such as burning fossil fuels or chopping down rainforests, are increasing the amount of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, which is causing the climate to change.

Here’s one of our climate explorers to tell us more…

Hannah

Hi I’m Hannah. I’m an atmospheric scientist.

My work is all about developing and looking after instruments that help monitor different things in our atmosphere. Me and my measuring instruments fly up to 10 kilometres high in the sky on board a special aircraft that takes measurements up in the clouds.

The instruments are fitted to both the plane’s body as well as its wings, and include lasers that measure clouds, small particles and fog.

A special laboratory in the air sounds really cool! So what do you measure?

Well, as well as temperature, we also measure humidity – that’s how much water vapour there is – as well as turbulence and wind – that’s all to do with how quickly or slowly the atmosphere is moving around. We can also measure tiny particles like smoke and dust, and even check the level of electricity in the air – something which is connected to thunderstorms!

So what do you do with all the information you collect?

It’s used in lots of ways but it can be really helpful for learning about changes to our climate. The measurements we collect are used by scientists across the world to learn as much as possible about our atmosphere today, and what effects humans are having on it. And with data collected over many years, scientists can use the information to help see changes over time – and predict what might happen in the future.

Sounds amazing Hannah! That plane full of gadgets sounds like a lot of fun – and what a great way to see the effect of changes in our climate!

Next, we’ll be on dry land finding out more how studying the Earth can help us learn more about the Earth’s climate… click here!

You can hear Marina Ventura’s Climate Explorers weekdays from 5pm on Fun Kids!

Get the series on your phone or tablet and listen whenever you like – at home or in the car!

…or you can listen here:

Marina Ventura: Kids Guide to Our Planet

The podcast exploring the environment, ecology, oceans and climates on our planet Earth.

 

Marina Ventura’s Climate Explorers with support from the Natural Environment Research Council.

Additional support thanks to Liverpool John Moores University, Manchester Metropolitan University, Met Office, and King’s College London.

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