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Atmosphere - reference notes & pics - teaching myself...

It's important to grasp the structure of the atmosphere. It has five layers,

  • Troposhpere (tropos=turning) where most weather happens, up to 12 km = 100 millibars(=hPa) pressure: temp falls with height;
  • Stratosphere (stratified and quiet), the opposite of turning, due to temp. rising with height: warming due to ozone;
  • Mesosphere - turbulent again, like the troposphere, temp falls with height; ionized by day to produce D & E layers; meteors burn up here; noctilucent clouds at dusk;
  • Thermosphere - quiet again, due to temp rising with height: early absorption of solar wind, cosmic rays; ionized plasma VERY hot but too diffuse to glow except when auroras form
  • Exosphere - not really a layer but it's where satellites orbit most comfortably

At the turns in temperature gradient are the pauses - Tropopause, Stratopause and Mesopause. Nimbus clubs form at the tropopause.

In the Troposphere, convection and water have huge effects - water vapour is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2 but its concentration varies. Convection causes adiabatic cooling which precipitates water droplets out of water vapour to form clouds; water vapour precipitating causes warming again; clouds change thermals, insulate at night and cool by day: the whole thing is way beyond current models though Eschenbach and others have observed interesting patterns of behaviour that appear to contribute to water vapour having a homeostatic effect. Below right is Trenberth's model: this is effective largely in the troposphere.

Above the troposphere, there is a steady increase of ionized particles (plasma) with increasing height, and a steady increase of interaction with, and absorption of, very high energy short-wave radiation from ultraviolet thru X-rays to cosmic rays. This buffer is essential to protect life on Earth but is open to cosmic influences in ways that is still very little understood; particularly electric and magnetic influences and the effects of, and correlation with, the "solar system barycentre" ie the solar system's centre of gravity which dances through and around the Sun itself and appears to correlate strongly with the sunspot cycle.

I've collected various pictures here to contemplate. Iconically they can be revealing. Trenberth's diagram's presence doesn't signify that I think he has got it correct. Just a useful reference point.

Below right is my own modified version of the CISM atmosphere diagram - I've added a Pressure scale to remind myself the pressure/altitude correspondence with the atmospheric layers.

Below left the scale is LOGARITHMIC not linear as above - so the mountain is drawn to scale logarithmically, where elsewhere artistic licence is used. Below right shows absorption frequencies.

Here's a picture from World of Aeronautics that includes pressure scaling, confirming my pic above.


Page built 8 February 2011


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