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Should we be concerned about the 'fragile' atmosphere described by astronaut Scott Kelly?

By By Katy Galimberti, Staff Writer
March 06, 2016, 12:03:12 AM EST

As NASA astronaut Scott Kelly’s latest venture on the International Space Station wound down, he reflected on his observations from 250 miles above the Earth.

In a recent interview with CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Kelly said the Earth’s atmosphere looks “very, very fragile,” in his perspective. Kelly has taken thousands of mystifying photos of every corner of the globe, capturing scenic views and monstrous sights from storms and typhoons.

“I wouldn’t say it looks unhealthy, but it definitely looks very, very fragile and just kind of like this thin film, so it looks like something that we definitely need to take care of,” he said.

Astronaut Scott Kelly returns to Earth after a year in space


Kelly described seeing a haze of thick smog over parts of South America and Asia and watching cyclones and hurricanes unfold across both basins.

“You definitely notice weather systems at times that aren’t really expected to be where they are, for instance, tropical cyclones in certain parts of the world at times…,” Kelly told CNN.


Kelly's comments resonate with Bill Andersen, geologist and associate dean of the college of the arts and sciences at Florida International University.

"The Earth itself is not fragile," he said, "but the ecosystems we like and prefer in this space and time may not exist because of how we treat things."

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Andersen said the Earth will exist, regardless of what human activity takes place. It's just a matter of the changing quality of the ecosystem in which we live.

Kelly has observed colossal dust storms, immense clouds of smog over major cities, hurricanes and typhoons and has seen deforestation and ice calving from afar. The compelling images he shares on social media are instantly shared, retweeted and stir conversations of wonderment.

However, Andersen hopes the images provide a clear look at the state of the climate to those who might otherwise disregard warnings.


"These things take your breath away," he said. "It's perspective. It makes you realize how fragile everything is."

Kelly himself has made similar comments. While on the ISS, he conducted an interview shortly before the Paris Climate Change Conference in 2015.

“This is something that’s critical to our survival and something we need to fix now before it’s too late," he told Popular Science, referring to the work by world leaders to reach an agreement.

Andersen hopes the images will encourage the everyday person to think about the planet's resources a little bit more.

Still, he stressed not to take Kelly's snapshots as the final rule. Images comparing the Earth over time are more revealing, as they highlight the changes in land, sea and air.

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