Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences
Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Projected increase in space travel may damage ozone layer

Significant boost in spaceflight activity may damage the protective ozone layer

Rocket exaust projected increases in space launces could disrupt atmospheric circulation.
A new study shows soot from rocket exhaust left by projected increases in space launches could disrupt atmospheric circulation and deplete the ozone layer.
- WikiImages from Pixabay

Projected growth in rocket launches for space tourism, moon landings, and perhaps travel to Mars has many dreaming of a new era of space exploration. But a new study suggests that a significant boost in spaceflight activity may damage the protective ozone layer on the one planet where we live. 

Kerosene-burning rocket engines widely used by the global launch industry emit exhaust containing black carbon, or soot, directly into the stratosphere, where a layer of ozone protects all living things on Earth from ultraviolet radiation's harmful impacts, including skin cancer and weakened immune systems in humans, as well as disruptions to agriculture and ecosystems.

According to new CIRES and NOAA research published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, a 10-fold increase in hydrocarbon-fueled launches, which is plausible within the next two decades based on recent trends in space traffic growth, would damage the ozone layer, and change atmospheric circulation patterns.

"We need to learn more about the potential impact of hydrocarbon-burning engines on the stratosphere and on the climate at the surface of the Earth,” said lead author Christopher Maloney, a CIRES research scientist working in NOAA’s Chemical Sciences Laboratory. “With further research, we should be able to better understand the relative impacts of different rocket types on climate and ozone."

Read more from NOAA Research here


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