atmosphere

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Our world is hugged by complex layers of gases that make up the atmosphere. They protect and nurture all life as we know it. Now, we're shrinking an entire one of those layers – the stratosphere – thanks to the profound impacts we are having on our planet.

An alarming new study has found that the thickness of the stratosphere has already shrunk by 400 meters (1,312 feet) since 1980. While local decreases in the stratosphere's thickness have previously been reported, this is the first examination of this phenomenon on a global scale.

"It is shocking," one of the research team, University of Vigo Earth physicist Juan Añel told Damian Carrington at The Guardian. "This proves we are messing with the atmosphere up to 60 kilometers."

Enveloping the sky around 20 to 60 kilometers (12 to 37 miles) above us, the stratosphere blankets the atmospheric layer we're breathing (the troposphere). Few clouds venture this high and only the occasional birds. It holds the all-important ozone layer, which we've already wreaked havoc upon through our emissions of CFCs.

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Lightning could be a much more important atmospheric cleanser than previously thought, according to a new analysis of historical measurements gathered from a storm-chasing airplane back in 2012 – data which were originally thought to be inaccurate.

While some of the air-scrubbing qualities of lightning bolts are already well understood – in particular the creation of nitric oxide and hydroxide that can flush out various greenhouse gases from the sky – there's a lot more going on here, according to the new research.

It appears that both lightning bolts and the weaker, invisible electrical charges around them can produce the pollutant-catching oxidants hydroxyl (OH) and hydroperoxyl (HO2), which can also remove gases such as methane and carbon monoxide from the atmosphere.

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