New Mexico Spaceport May Spur Climate Change
Spaceport America, billed as the world’s first commercial spaceport, is under construction in New Mexico, but will all the anticipated rocket launches have any effect on climate? A new study soon to be published in Geophysical Research Letters finds that it will; but the culprit is soot, rather than carbon dioxide as might be expected. Lead author Martin Ross, from the Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, California, modeled the impact of increased rocket soot, composed of black carbon particles, on the Earth’s climate. Estimating 1,000 suborbital rocket launches per year, he and his coauthors found that the soot emitted from rockets traveling in the stratosphere, 25 miles above the surface--well above the altitude traveled by airplanes-- absorb sunlight. This absorption warms the stratosphere, but cools the surface by as much at 1.2°F, altering global circulation patterns. The increase in soot particles also has an impact on ozone, increasing it by 10% at the poles, and reducing it by 1% in the equatorial regions.