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Afterglow of the troposphere (orange), the stratosphere (whitish), the mesosphere (blue) with remains of a spacecraft reentry trail, and above the thermosphere, without a visible glow ISS-46 Soyuz TMA-17M reentry.jpg
Afterglow of the troposphere (orange), the stratosphere (whitish), the mesosphere (blue) with remains of a spacecraft reentry trail, and above the thermosphere, without a visible glow
This image shows the temperature trend in the lower stratosphere as measured by a series of satellite-based instruments between January 1979 and December 2005. The lower stratosphere is centered around 18 kilometers above Earth's surface. The stratosphere image is dominated by blues and greens, which indicates a cooling over time. Stratosphere Temperature Trend.jpg
This image shows the temperature trend in the lower stratosphere as measured by a series of satellite-based instruments between January 1979 and December 2005. The lower stratosphere is centered around 18 kilometers above Earth's surface. The stratosphere image is dominated by blues and greens, which indicates a cooling over time.
Diagram showing the five primary layers of the Earth's atmosphere: exosphere, thermosphere, mesosphere, stratosphere, and troposphere. The layers are not to scale. From Earth's surface to the top of the stratosphere (50 km) is just under 1% of Earth's radius. Atmosphere layers-en.svg
Diagram showing the five primary layers of the Earth's atmosphere: exosphere, thermosphere, mesosphere, stratosphere, and troposphere. The layers are not to scale. From Earth's surface to the top of the stratosphere (50 km) is just under 1% of Earth's radius.

The stratosphere ( /ˈstrætəˌsfɪər,-t-/ ) is the second layer of the atmosphere of the Earth, located above the troposphere and below the mesosphere. [2] [3] The stratosphere is an atmospheric layer composed of stratified temperature layers, with the warm layers of air high in the sky and the cool layers of air in the low sky, close to the planetary surface of the Earth. The increase of temperature with altitude is a result of the absorption of the Sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation by the ozone layer. [4] The temperature inversion is in contrast to the troposphere, near the Earth's surface, where temperature decreases with altitude


Between the troposphere and stratosphere is the tropopause border that demarcates the beginning of the temperature inversion. Near the equator, the lower edge of the stratosphere is as high as 20 km (66,000 ft; 12 mi), at midlatitudes around 10 km (33,000 ft; 6.2 mi), and at the poles about 7 km (23,000 ft; 4.3 mi). [4] Temperatures range from an average of −51 °C (−60 °F; 220 K) near the tropopause to an average of −15 °C (5.0 °F; 260 K) near the mesosphere. [5] Stratospheric temperatures also vary within the stratosphere as the seasons change, reaching particularly low temperatures in the polar night (winter). [6] Winds in the stratosphere can far exceed those in the troposphere, reaching near 60 m/s (220 km/h; 130 mph) in the Southern polar vortex. [6]

Ozone layer

The mechanism describing the formation of the ozone layer was described by British mathematician Sydney Chapman in 1930. [7] Molecular oxygen absorbs high energy sunlight in the UV-C region, at wavelengths shorter than about 240 nm. Radicals produced from the homolytically split oxygen molecules combine with molecular oxygen to form ozone. Ozone in turn is photolysed much more rapidly than molecular oxygen as it has a stronger absorption that occurs at longer wavelengths, where the solar emission is more intense. Ozone (O3) photolysis produces O and O2. The oxygen atom product combines with atmospheric molecular oxygen to reform O3, releasing heat. The rapid photolysis and reformation of ozone heat the stratosphere, resulting in a temperature inversion. This increase of temperature with altitude is characteristic of the stratosphere; its resistance to vertical mixing means that it is stratified. Within the stratosphere temperatures increase with altitude (see temperature inversion); the top of the stratosphere has a temperature of about 270 K (−3°C or 26.6°F). [8]

This vertical stratification, with warmer layers above and cooler layers below, makes the stratosphere dynamically stable: there is no regular convection and associated turbulence in this part of the atmosphere. However, exceptionally energetic convection processes, such as volcanic eruption columns and overshooting tops in severe supercell thunderstorms, may carry convection into the stratosphere on a very local and temporary basis. Overall, the attenuation of solar UV at wavelengths that damage DNA by the ozone layer allows life to exist on the surface of the planet outside of the ocean. All air entering the stratosphere must pass through the tropopause, the temperature minimum that divides the troposphere and stratosphere. The rising air is literally freeze dried; the stratosphere is a very dry place. The top of the stratosphere is called the stratopause, above which the temperature decreases with height.


Sydney Chapman gave a correct description of the source of stratospheric ozone and its ability to generate heat within the stratosphere;[ citation needed ] he also wrote that ozone may be destroyed by reacting with atomic oxygen, making two molecules of molecular oxygen. We now know that there are additional ozone loss mechanisms and that these mechanisms are catalytic meaning that a small amount of the catalyst can destroy a great number of ozone molecules. The first is due to the reaction of hydroxyl radicals (•OH) with ozone. •OH is formed by the reaction of electrically excited oxygen atoms produced by ozone photolysis, with water vapor. While the stratosphere is dry, additional water vapor is produced in situ by the photochemical oxidation of methane (CH4). The HO2 radical produced by the reaction of OH with O3 is recycled to OH by reaction with oxygen atoms or ozone. In addition, solar proton events can significantly affect ozone levels via radiolysis with the subsequent formation of OH. Nitrous oxide (N2O) is produced by biological activity at the surface and is oxidised to NO in the stratosphere; the so-called NOx radical cycles also deplete stratospheric ozone. Finally, chlorofluorocarbon molecules are photolysed in the stratosphere releasing chlorine atoms that react with ozone giving ClO and O2. The chlorine atoms are recycled when ClO reacts with O in the upper stratosphere, or when ClO reacts with itself in the chemistry of the Antarctic ozone hole.

Paul J. Crutzen, Mario J. Molina and F. Sherwood Rowland were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1995 for their work describing the formation and decomposition of stratospheric ozone. [9]

Aircraft flight

Aircraft typically cruise at the stratosphere to avoid turbulence rampant in the troposphere. The blue beam in this image is the ozone layer, beaming further to the mesosphere. The ozone heats the stratosphere, making conditions stable. The stratosphere is also the altitude limit of jets and weather balloons, as air is roughly a thousand times thinner there than at the troposphere. Boeing 737 view 1.jpg
Aircraft typically cruise at the stratosphere to avoid turbulence rampant in the troposphere. The blue beam in this image is the ozone layer, beaming further to the mesosphere. The ozone heats the stratosphere, making conditions stable. The stratosphere is also the altitude limit of jets and weather balloons, as air is roughly a thousand times thinner there than at the troposphere.

Commercial airliners typically cruise at altitudes of 9–12 km (30,000–39,000 ft) which is in the lower reaches of the stratosphere in temperate latitudes. [11] This optimizes fuel efficiency, mostly due to the low temperatures encountered near the tropopause and low air density, reducing parasitic drag on the airframe. Stated another way, it allows the airliner to fly faster while maintaining lift equal to the weight of the plane. (The fuel consumption depends on the drag, which is related to the lift by the lift-to-drag ratio.) It also allows the airplane to stay above the turbulent weather of the troposphere.

The Concorde aircraft cruised at Mach 2 at about 60,000 ft (18 km), and the SR-71 cruised at Mach 3 at 85,000 ft (26 km), all within the stratosphere.

Because the temperature in the tropopause and lower stratosphere is largely constant with increasing altitude, very little convection and its resultant turbulence occurs there. Most turbulence at this altitude is caused by variations in the jet stream and other local wind shears, although areas of significant convective activity (thunderstorms) in the troposphere below may produce turbulence as a result of convective overshoot.

On October 24, 2014, Alan Eustace became the record holder for reaching the altitude record for a manned balloon at 135,890 ft (41,419 m). [12] Eustace also broke the world records for vertical speed skydiving, reached with a peak velocity of 1,321 km/h (822 mph) and total freefall distance of 123,414 ft (37,617 m) – lasting four minutes and 27 seconds. [13]

Circulation and mixing

The stratosphere is a region of intense interactions among radiative, dynamical, and chemical processes, in which the horizontal mixing of gaseous components proceeds much more rapidly than does vertical mixing. The overall circulation of the stratosphere is termed as Brewer-Dobson circulation, which is a single-celled circulation, spanning from the tropics up to the poles, consisting of the tropical upwelling of air from the tropical troposphere and the extra-tropical downwelling of air. Stratospheric circulation is a predominantly wave-driven circulation in that the tropical upwelling is induced by the wave force by the westward propagating Rossby waves, in a phenomenon called Rossby-wave pumping.

An interesting feature of stratospheric circulation is the quasi-biennial oscillation (QBO) in the tropical latitudes, which is driven by gravity waves that are convectively generated in the troposphere. The QBO induces a secondary circulation that is important for the global stratospheric transport of tracers, such as ozone [14] or water vapor.

Another large-scale feature that significantly influences stratospheric circulation is the breaking planetary waves [15] resulting in intense quasi-horizontal mixing in the midlatitudes. This breaking is much more pronounced in the winter hemisphere where this region is called the surf zone. This breaking is caused due to a highly non-linear interaction between the vertically propagating planetary waves and the isolated high potential vorticity region known as the polar vortex. The resultant breaking causes large-scale mixing of air and other trace gases throughout the midlatitude surf zone. The timescale of this rapid mixing is much smaller than the much slower timescales of upwelling in the tropics and downwelling in the extratropics.

During northern hemispheric winters, sudden stratospheric warmings, caused by the absorption of Rossby waves in the stratosphere, can be observed in approximately half of winters when easterly winds develop in the stratosphere. These events often precede unusual winter weather [16] and may even be responsible for the cold European winters of the 1960s. [17]

Stratospheric warming of the polar vortex results in its weakening. [18] When the vortex is strong, it keeps the cold, high-pressure air masses contained in the Arctic; when the vortex weakens, air masses move equatorward, and results in rapid changes of weather in the mid latitudes.



Bacterial life survives in the stratosphere, making it a part of the biosphere. [19] In 2001, dust was collected at a height of 41 kilometres in a high-altitude balloon experiment and was found to contain bacterial material when examined later in the laboratory. [20]


Some bird species have been reported to fly at the upper levels of the troposphere. On November 29, 1973, a Rüppell's vulture (Gyps rueppelli) was ingested into a jet engine 11,278 m (37,000 ft) above the Ivory Coast, and bar-headed geese (Anser indicus) reportedly overfly Mount Everest's summit, which is 8,848 m (29,029 ft). [21] [22] [23]


In 1902, Léon Teisserenc de Bort from France and Richard Assmann from Germany, in separate but coordinated publications and following years of observations, published the discovery of an isothermal layer at around 11–14 km, which is the base of the lower stratosphere. This was based on temperature profiles from mostly unmanned and a few manned instrumented balloons. [24]

See also

Related Research Articles

Jet stream Fast-flowing atmospheric air current

Jet streams are fast flowing, narrow, meandering air currents in the atmospheres of some planets, including Earth. On Earth, the main jet streams are located near the altitude of the tropopause and are westerly winds. Jet streams may start, stop, split into two or more parts, combine into one stream, or flow in various directions including opposite to the direction of the remainder of the jet.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ozone layer</span> Region of Earths stratosphere that absorbs most of the Suns ultraviolet radiation

The ozone layer or ozone shield is a region of Earth's stratosphere that absorbs most of the Sun's ultraviolet radiation. It contains a high concentration of ozone (O3) in relation to other parts of the atmosphere, although still small in relation to other gases in the stratosphere. The ozone layer contains less than 10 parts per million of ozone, while the average ozone concentration in Earth's atmosphere as a whole is about 0.3 parts per million. The ozone layer is mainly found in the lower portion of the stratosphere, from approximately 15 to 35 kilometers (9 to 22 mi) above Earth, although its thickness varies seasonally and geographically.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Troposphere</span> Lowest layer of Earths atmosphere

The troposphere is the first and lowest layer of the atmosphere of the Earth, and contains 75% of the total mass of the planetary atmosphere, 99% of the total mass of water vapour and aerosols, and is where most weather phenomena occur. From the planetary surface of the Earth, the average height of the troposphere is 18 km in the tropics; 17 km in the middle latitudes; and 6 km in the high latitudes of the polar regions in winter; thus the average height of the troposphere is 13 km.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ozone depletion</span> Atmosheric phenomenon

Ozone depletion consists of two related events observed since the late 1970s: a steady lowering of about four percent in the total amount of ozone in Earth's atmosphere, and a much larger springtime decrease in stratospheric ozone around Earth's polar regions. The latter phenomenon is referred to as the ozone hole. There are also springtime polar tropospheric ozone depletion events in addition to these stratospheric events.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cloud</span> Visible mass of liquid droplets or frozen crystals suspended in the atmosphere

In meteorology, a cloud is an aerosol consisting of a visible mass of miniature liquid droplets, frozen crystals, or other particles suspended in the atmosphere of a planetary body or similar space. Water or various other chemicals may compose the droplets and crystals. On Earth, clouds are formed as a result of saturation of the air when it is cooled to its dew point, or when it gains sufficient moisture from an adjacent source to raise the dew point to the ambient temperature.

Cumulonimbus cloud Genus of dense, towering vertical clouds

Cumulonimbus is a dense, towering vertical cloud, typically forming from water vapor condensing in the lower troposphere that builds upward carried by powerful buoyant air currents. Above the lower portions of the cumulonimbus the water vapor becomes ice crystals, such as snow and graupel, the interaction of which can lead to hail and to lightning formation, respectively. When occurring as a thunderstorm these clouds may be referred to as thunderheads. Cumulonimbus can form alone, in clusters, or along squall lines. These clouds are capable of producing lightning and other dangerous severe weather, such as tornadoes, hazardous winds, and large hailstones. Cumulonimbus progress from overdeveloped cumulus congestus clouds and may further develop as part of a supercell. Cumulonimbus is abbreviated Cb.

Tropopause The boundary of the atmosphere between the troposphere and stratosphere

The tropopause is the atmospheric boundary that demarcates the troposphere from the stratosphere; which are two of the five layers of the atmosphere of Earth. The tropopause is a thermodynamic gradient-stratification layer, that marks the end of the troposphere, and lies approximately 17 kilometres (11 mi) above the equatorial regions, and approximately 9 kilometres (5.6 mi) above the polar regions.

A sudden stratospheric warming (SSW) is an event in which the polar stratospheric temperature rises by several tens of kelvins over the course of a few days. The warming is preceded by a slowing then reversal of the westerly winds in the stratospheric polar vortex. SSWs occur about 6 times per decade in the northern hemisphere, and only about once every 20-30 years in the southern hemisphere.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Atmosphere of Earth</span> Gas layer surrounding Earth

The atmosphere of Earth or air is the layer of gases retained by Earth's gravity that surrounds the planet and forms its planetary atmosphere. The atmosphere of Earth protects life on Earth by creating pressure allowing for liquid water to exist on the Earth's surface, absorbing ultraviolet solar radiation, warming the surface through heat retention, and reducing temperature extremes between day and night.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Atmosphere</span> Layer of gases surrounding an astronomical body held by gravity

An atmosphere is a layer of gas or layers of gases that envelope a planet, and is held in place by the gravity of the planetary body. A planet retains an atmosphere when the gravity is great and the temperature of the atmosphere is low. A stellar atmosphere is the outer region of a star, which includes the layers above the opaque photosphere; stars of low temperature might have outer atmospheres containing compound molecules.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ground-level ozone</span>

Ground-level ozone (O3), also known as surface-level ozone and tropospheric ozone, is a trace gas in the troposphere (the lowest level of the Earth's atmosphere), with an average concentration of 20–30 parts per billion by volume (ppbv), with close to 100 ppbv in polluted areas. Ozone is also an important constituent of the stratosphere, where the ozone layer (2 to 8 parts per million ozone) exists which is located between 10 and 50 kilometers above the Earth's surface. The troposphere extends from the ground up to a variable height of approximately 14 kilometers above sea level. Ozone is least concentrated in the ground layer (or planetary boundary layer) of the troposphere. Ground-level or tropospheric ozone is created by chemical reactions between NOx gases (oxides of nitrogen produced by combustion) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The combination of these chemicals in the presence of sunlight form ozone. Its concentration increases as height above sea level increases, with a maximum concentration at the tropopause. About 90% of total ozone in the atmosphere is in the stratosphere, and 10% is in the troposphere. Although tropospheric ozone is less concentrated than stratospheric ozone, it is of concern because of its health effects. Ozone in the troposphere is considered a greenhouse gas, and may contribute to global warming.

The Carl-Gustaf Rossby Research Medal is the highest award for atmospheric science of the American Meteorological Society. It is presented to individual scientists, who receive a medal. Named in honor of meteorology and oceanography pioneer Carl-Gustaf Rossby, who was also its second (1953) recipient.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Thermocline</span> Thermal layer in a body of water

A thermocline is a thin but distinct layer in a large body of fluid in which temperature changes more drastically with depth than it does in the layers above or below. In the ocean, the thermocline divides the upper mixed layer from the calm deep water below.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Polar vortex</span> Persistent cold-core low-pressure area that circles one of the poles

A circumpolar vortex, or simply polar vortex, is a large region of cold, rotating air that encircles both of Earth's polar regions. Polar vortices also exist on other rotating, low-obliquity planetary bodies. The term polar vortex can be used to describe two distinct phenomena; the stratospheric polar vortex, and the tropospheric polar vortex. The stratospheric and tropospheric polar vortices both rotate in the direction of the Earth's spin, but they are distinct phenomena that have different sizes, structures, seasonal cycles, and impacts on weather.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Index of meteorology articles</span>

This is a list of meteorology topics. The terms relate to meteorology, the interdisciplinary scientific study of the atmosphere that focuses on weather processes and forecasting.

In meteorology, clear-air turbulence (CAT) is the turbulent movement of air masses in the absence of any visual clues, such as clouds, and is caused when bodies of air moving at widely different speeds meet.

The homosphere is the layer of an atmosphere where the bulk gases are homogeneously mixed due to turbulent mixing or eddy diffusion. The bulk composition of the air is mostly uniform so the concentrations of molecules are the same throughout the homosphere. The top of the homosphere is called the homopause, also known as the turbopause. Above the homopause is the heterosphere, where diffusion is faster than mixing, and heavy gases decrease in density with altitude more rapidly than lighter gases.

Atmospheric chemistry observational databases

Over the last two centuries many environmental chemical observations have been made from a variety of ground-based, airborne, and orbital platforms and deposited in databases. Many of these databases are publicly available. All of the instruments mentioned in this article give online public access to their data. These observations are critical in developing our understanding of the Earth's atmosphere and issues such as climate change, ozone depletion and air quality. Some of the external links provide repositories of many of these datasets in one place. For example, the Cambridge Atmospheric Chemical Database, is a large database in a uniform ASCII format. Each observation is augmented with the meteorological conditions such as the temperature, potential temperature, geopotential height, and equivalent PV latitude.

Atmospheric temperature

Atmospheric temperature is a measure of temperature at different levels of the Earth's atmosphere. It is governed by many factors, including incoming solar radiation, humidity and altitude. When discussing surface air temperature, the annual atmospheric temperature range at any geographical location depends largely upon the type of biome, as measured by the Köppen climate classification

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Glossary of meteorology</span> List of definitions of terms and concepts commonly used in meteorology

This glossary of meteorology is a list of terms and concepts relevant to meteorology and atmospheric science, their sub-disciplines, and related fields.


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