Last updated
Space Shuttle Endeavour silhouetted against the atmosphere. The orange layer is the troposphere, the white layer is the stratosphere, and the blue layer is the mesosphere. (The shuttle is actually orbiting at an altitude of more than 320 km (200 mi), far above all three layers.) Endeavour silhouette STS-130.jpg
Space Shuttle Endeavour silhouetted against the atmosphere. The orange layer is the troposphere, the white layer is the stratosphere, and the blue layer is the mesosphere. (The shuttle is actually orbiting at an altitude of more than 320 km (200 mi), far above all three layers.)

The troposphere is the lowest layer of Earth's atmosphere, and is also where nearly all weather conditions take place. It contains approximately 75% of the atmosphere's mass and 99% of the total mass of water vapor and aerosols. [2] The average height of the troposphere is 18 km (11 mi; 59,000 ft) in the tropics, 17 km (11 mi; 56,000 ft) in the middle latitudes, and 6 km (3.7 mi; 20,000 ft) in the polar regions in winter. The total average height of the troposphere is 13 km.

Weather Short-term state of the atmosphere

Weather is the state of the atmosphere, describing for example the degree to which it is hot or cold, wet or dry, calm or stormy, clear or cloudy. Most weather phenomena occur in the lowest level of the atmosphere, the troposphere, just below the stratosphere. Weather refers to day-to-day temperature and precipitation activity, whereas climate is the term for the averaging of atmospheric conditions over longer periods of time. When used without qualification, "weather" is generally understood to mean the weather of Earth.

Atmosphere The layer of gases surrounding an astronomical body held by gravity

An atmosphere is a layer or a set of layers of gases surrounding a planet or other material body, that is held in place by the gravity of that body. An atmosphere is more likely to be retained if the gravity it is subject to is high and the temperature of the atmosphere is low.

Mass Quantity of matter

Mass is both a property of a physical body and a measure of its resistance to acceleration when a net force is applied. The object's mass also determines the strength of its gravitational attraction to other bodies.


The lowest part of the troposphere, where friction with the Earth's surface influences air flow, is the planetary boundary layer. This layer is typically a few hundred meters to 2 km (1.2 mi; 6,600 ft) deep depending on the landform and time of day. Atop the troposphere is the tropopause, which is the border between the troposphere and stratosphere. The tropopause is an inversion layer, where the air temperature ceases to decrease with height and remains constant through its thickness. [3]

Friction force resisting the relative motion of solid surfaces, fluid layers, and material elements sliding against each other

Friction is the force resisting the relative motion of solid surfaces, fluid layers, and material elements sliding against each other. There are several types of friction:

Planetary boundary layer The lowest part of the atmosphere directly influenced by contact with the planetary surface

In meteorology the planetary boundary layer (PBL), also known as the atmospheric boundary layer (ABL) or peplosphere, is the lowest part of the atmosphere and its behaviour is directly influenced by its contact with a planetary surface. On Earth it usually responds to changes in surface radiative forcing in an hour or less. In this layer physical quantities such as flow velocity, temperature, moisture, etc., display rapid fluctuations (turbulence) and vertical mixing is strong. Above the PBL is the "free atmosphere", where the wind is approximately geostrophic, while within the PBL the wind is affected by surface drag and turns across the isobars.

Landform A natural feature of the solid surface of the Earth or other planetary body

A landform is a natural feature of the solid surface of the Earth or other planetary body. Landforms together make up a given terrain, and their arrangement in the landscape is known as topography. Typical landforms include hills, mountains, plateaus, canyons, and valleys, as well as shoreline features such as bays, peninsulas, and seas, including submerged features such as mid-ocean ridges, volcanoes, and the great ocean basins.

The word troposphere is derived from the Greek tropos (meaning "turn, turn toward, change") and sphere (as in the Earth), reflecting the fact that rotational turbulent mixing plays an important role in the troposphere's structure and behaviour. Most of the phenomena associated with day-to-day weather occur in the troposphere. [3]

Greek language language spoken in Greece, Cyprus and Southern Albania

Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning more than 3000 years of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the major part of its history; other systems, such as Linear B and the Cypriot syllabary, were used previously. The alphabet arose from the Phoenician script and was in turn the basis of the Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian, Coptic, Gothic, and many other writing systems.

Sphere round geometrical and circular object in three-dimensional space; special case of spheroid

A sphere is a perfectly round geometrical object in three-dimensional space that is the surface of a completely round ball.

In fluid dynamics, turbulence or turbulent flow is fluid motion characterized by chaotic changes in pressure and flow velocity. It is in contrast to a laminar flow, which occurs when a fluid flows in parallel layers, with no disruption between those layers.

Diagram showing the five primary layers of the Earth's atmosphere: exosphere, thermosphere, mesosphere, stratosphere, and troposphere. The layers are to scale. From Earth's surface to the top of the stratosphere (50 km) is just under 1% of Earth's radius. EarthAtmosphereBig.jpg
Diagram showing the five primary layers of the Earth's atmosphere: exosphere, thermosphere, mesosphere, stratosphere, and troposphere. The layers are to scale. From Earth's surface to the top of the stratosphere (50 km) is just under 1% of Earth's radius.

Pressure and temperature structure

A view of Earth's troposphere from an airplane. Troposphere CIMG1853.JPG
A view of Earth's troposphere from an airplane.


By volume, dry air contains 78.08% nitrogen, 20.95% oxygen, 0.93% argon, 0.04% carbon dioxide, and small amounts of other gases. Air also contains a variable amount of water vapor. Except for the water vapor content, the composition of the troposphere is essentially uniform. The source of water vapor is at the Earth's surface through the process of evaporation. The temperature of the troposphere decreases with altitude. And, saturation vapor pressure decreases strongly as temperature drops. Hence, the amount of water vapor that can exist in the atmosphere decreases strongly with altitude and the proportion of water vapor is normally greatest near the surface of the Earth.

Nitrogen Chemical element with atomic number 7

Nitrogen is a chemical element with symbol N and atomic number 7. It was first discovered and isolated by Scottish physician Daniel Rutherford in 1772. Although Carl Wilhelm Scheele and Henry Cavendish had independently done so at about the same time, Rutherford is generally accorded the credit because his work was published first. The name nitrogène was suggested by French chemist Jean-Antoine-Claude Chaptal in 1790, when it was found that nitrogen was present in nitric acid and nitrates. Antoine Lavoisier suggested instead the name azote, from the Greek ἀζωτικός "no life", as it is an asphyxiant gas; this name is instead used in many languages, such as French, Russian, Romanian and Turkish, and appears in the English names of some nitrogen compounds such as hydrazine, azides and azo compounds.

Oxygen Chemical element with atomic number 8

Oxygen is the chemical element with the symbol O and atomic number 8. It is a member of the chalcogen group on the periodic table, a highly reactive nonmetal, and an oxidizing agent that readily forms oxides with most elements as well as with other compounds. By mass, oxygen is the third-most abundant element in the universe, after hydrogen and helium. At standard temperature and pressure, two atoms of the element bind to form dioxygen, a colorless and odorless diatomic gas with the formula O
. Diatomic oxygen gas constitutes 20.8% of the Earth's atmosphere. As compounds including oxides, the element makes up almost half of the Earth's crust.

Argon Chemical element with atomic number 18

Argon is a chemical element with symbol Ar and atomic number 18. It is in group 18 of the periodic table and is a noble gas. Argon is the third-most abundant gas in the Earth's atmosphere, at 0.934%. It is more than twice as abundant as water vapor, 23 times as abundant as carbon dioxide, and more than 500 times as abundant as neon. Argon is the most abundant noble gas in Earth's crust, comprising 0.00015% of the crust.


The pressure of the atmosphere is maximum at sea level and decreases with altitude. This is because the atmosphere is very nearly in hydrostatic equilibrium so that the pressure is equal to the weight of air above a given point. The change in pressure with altitude can be equated to the density with the hydrostatic equation [4]

Sea level Average level for the surface of the ocean at any given geographical position on the planetary surface

Mean sea level (MSL) is an average level of the surface of one or more of Earth's oceans from which heights such as elevation may be measured. MSL is a type of vertical datum – a standardised geodetic datum – that is used, for example, as a chart datum in cartography and marine navigation, or, in aviation, as the standard sea level at which atmospheric pressure is measured to calibrate altitude and, consequently, aircraft flight levels. A common and relatively straightforward mean sea-level standard is the midpoint between a mean low and mean high tide at a particular location.

In fluid mechanics, a fluid is said to be in hydrostatic equilibrium or hydrostatic balance when it is at rest, or when the flow velocity at each point is constant over time. This occurs when external forces such as gravity are balanced by a pressure-gradient force. For instance, the pressure-gradient force prevents gravity from collapsing Earth's atmosphere into a thin, dense shell, whereas gravity prevents the pressure gradient force from diffusing the atmosphere into space.


Altitude or height is defined based on the context in which it is used. As a general definition, altitude is a distance measurement, usually in the vertical or "up" direction, between a reference datum and a point or object. The reference datum also often varies according to the context. Although the term altitude is commonly used to mean the height above sea level of a location, in geography the term elevation is often preferred for this usage.

Pressure Force distributed continuously over an area

Pressure is the force applied perpendicular to the surface of an object per unit area over which that force is distributed. Gauge pressure is the pressure relative to the ambient pressure.

The gas constant is also known as the molar, universal, or ideal gas constant, denoted by the symbol R or R and is equivalent to the Boltzmann constant, but expressed in units of energy per temperature increment per mole, i.e. the pressure–volume product, rather than energy per temperature increment per particle. The constant is also a combination of the constants from Boyle's law, Charles's law, Avogadro's law, and Gay-Lussac's law. It is a physical constant that is featured in many fundamental equations in the physical sciences, such as the ideal gas law and the Nernst equation.

Since temperature in principle also depends on altitude, one needs a second equation to determine the pressure as a function of altitude as discussed in the next section.


This image shows the temperature trend in the Middle Troposphere as measured by a series of satellite-based instruments between January 1979 and December 2005. The middle troposphere is centered around 5 kilometers above the surface. Oranges and yellows dominate the troposphere image, indicating that the air nearest the Earth's surface warmed during the period.Source: Troposphere Temperature Trend1.jpg
This image shows the temperature trend in the Middle Troposphere as measured by a series of satellite-based instruments between January 1979 and December 2005. The middle troposphere is centered around 5 kilometers above the surface. Oranges and yellows dominate the troposphere image, indicating that the air nearest the Earth's surface warmed during the period.Source:

The temperature of the troposphere generally decreases as altitude increases. The rate at which the temperature decreases, , is called the environmental lapse rate (ELR). The ELR is nothing more than the difference in temperature between the surface and the tropopause divided by the height. The ELR assumes that the air is perfectly still, i.e. that there is no mixing of the layers of air from vertical convection, nor winds that would create turbulence and hence mixing of the layers of air. The reason for this temperature difference is that the ground absorbs most of the sun's energy, which then heats the lower levels of the atmosphere with which it is in contact. Meanwhile, the radiation of heat at the top of the atmosphere results in the cooling of that part of the atmosphere.

Environmental Lapse Rate (ELR)
Altitude RegionLapse rateLapse Rate
(m)(Kelvin/km)(°F/1000 feet)
0 – 11,0006.53.57
11,000 – 20,0000.00.0
20,000 – 32,000-1.0-0.55
32,000 – 47,000-2.8-1.54
47,000 – 51,0000.00.0
51,000 – 71,0002.81.54
71,000 – 85,0002.01.09

The ELR assumes the atmosphere is still, but as air is heated it becomes buoyant and rises. The dry adiabatic lapse rate accounts for the effect of the expansion of dry air as it rises in the atmosphere and wet adiabatic lapse rates includes the effect of the condensation of water vapor on the lapse rate.

When a parcel of air rises, it expands, because the pressure is lower at higher altitudes. As the air parcel expands, it pushes the surrounding air outward, transferring energy in the form of work from that parcel to the atmosphere. As energy transfer to a parcel of air by way of heat is very slow, it is assumed to not exchange energy by way of heat with the environment. Such a process is called an adiabatic process (no energy transfer by way of heat). Since the rising parcel of air is losing energy as it does work on the surrounding atmosphere and no energy is transferred into it as heat from the atmosphere to make up for the loss, the parcel of air is losing energy, which manifests itself as a decrease in the temperature of the air parcel. The reverse, of course, will be true for a parcel of air that is sinking and is being compressed. [3]

Since the process of compression and expansion of an air parcel can be considered reversible and no energy is transferred into or out of the parcel, such a process is considered isentropic, meaning that there is no change in entropy as the air parcel rises and falls, . Since the heat exchanged is related to the entropy change by , the equation governing the temperature as a function of height for a thoroughly mixed atmosphere is

where S is the entropy. The above equation states that the entropy of the atmosphere does not change with height. The rate at which temperature decreases with height under such conditions is called the adiabatic lapse rate.

For dry air, which is approximately an ideal gas, we can proceed further. The adiabatic equation for an ideal gas is [5]

where is the heat capacity ratio (=7/5, for air). Combining with the equation for the pressure, one arrives at the dry adiabatic lapse rate, [6]

If the air contains water vapor, then cooling of the air can cause the water to condense, and the behavior is no longer that of an ideal gas. If the air is at the saturated vapor pressure, then the rate at which temperature drops with height is called the saturated adiabatic lapse rate. More generally, the actual rate at which the temperature drops with altitude is called the environmental lapse rate. In the troposphere, the average environmental lapse rate is a drop of about 6.5 °C for every 1 km (1,000 meters) in increased height. [3]

The environmental lapse rate (the actual rate at which temperature drops with height, ) is not usually equal to the adiabatic lapse rate (or correspondingly, ). If the upper air is warmer than predicted by the adiabatic lapse rate (), then when a parcel of air rises and expands, it will arrive at the new height at a lower temperature than its surroundings. In this case, the air parcel is denser than its surroundings, so it sinks back to its original height, and the air is stable against being lifted. If, on the contrary, the upper air is cooler than predicted by the adiabatic lapse rate, then when the air parcel rises to its new height it will have a higher temperature and a lower density than its surroundings, and will continue to accelerate upward. [3] [4]

The troposphere is heated from below by latent heat, longwave radiation, and sensible heat. Surplus heating and vertical expansion of the troposphere occurs in the tropics. At middle latitudes, tropospheric temperatures decrease from an average of 15 °C at sea level to about −55 °C at the tropopause. At the poles, tropospheric temperature only decreases from an average of 0 °C at sea level to about −45 °C at the tropopause. At the equator, tropospheric temperatures decrease from an average of 20 °C at sea level to about −70 to −75 °C at the tropopause. The troposphere is thinner at the poles and thicker at the equator. The average thickness of the tropical troposphere is roughly 7 kilometers greater than the average tropospheric thickness at the poles. [7]


The tropopause is the boundary region between the troposphere and the stratosphere.

Measuring the temperature change with height through the troposphere and the stratosphere identifies the location of the tropopause. In the troposphere, temperature decreases with altitude. In the stratosphere, however, the temperature remains constant for a while and then increases with altitude. This coldest layer of the atmosphere, where the lapse rate changes from positive (in the troposphere) to negative (in the stratosphere), is defined as the tropopause. [3] Thus, the tropopause is an inversion layer, and there is little mixing between the two layers of the atmosphere.

Atmospheric flow

The flow of the atmosphere generally moves in a west to east direction. This, however, can often become interrupted, creating a more north to south or south to north flow. These scenarios are often described in meteorology as zonal or meridional. These terms, however, tend to be used in reference to localised areas of atmosphere (at a synoptic scale). A fuller explanation of the flow of atmosphere around the Earth as a whole can be found in the three-cell model.

Zonal flow

A zonal flow regime. Note the dominant west-to-east flow as shown in the 500 hPa height pattern. Zonalflow.gif
A zonal flow regime. Note the dominant west-to-east flow as shown in the 500 hPa height pattern.

A zonal flow regime is the meteorological term meaning that the general flow pattern is west to east along the Earth's latitude lines, with weak shortwaves embedded in the flow. [8] The use of the word "zone" refers to the flow being along the Earth's latitudinal "zones". This pattern can buckle and thus become a meridional flow.

Meridional flow

Meridional Flow pattern of October 23, 2003. Note the amplified troughs and ridges in this 500 hPa height pattern. Meridionalflowpattern.jpg
Meridional Flow pattern of October 23, 2003. Note the amplified troughs and ridges in this 500 hPa height pattern.

When the zonal flow buckles, the atmosphere can flow in a more longitudinal (or meridional) direction, and thus the term "meridional flow" arises. Meridional flow patterns feature strong, amplified troughs of low pressure and ridges of high pressure, with more north-south flow in the general pattern than west-to-east flow. [9]

Three-cell model

Atmospheric circulation shown with three large cells. AtmosphCirc2.png
Atmospheric circulation shown with three large cells.

The three cells model of the atmosphere attempts to describe the actual flow of the Earth's atmosphere as a whole. It divides the Earth into the tropical (Hadley cell), mid latitude (Ferrel cell), and polar (polar cell) regions, to describe energy flow and global atmospheric circulation (mass flow). Its fundamental principle is that of balance – the energy that the Earth absorbs from the sun each year is equal to that which it loses to space by radiation. This overall Earth energy balance, however, does not apply in each latitude due to the varying strength of the sun in each "cell" as a result of the tilt of the Earth's axis in relation to its orbit. The result is a circulation of the atmosphere that transports warm air poleward from the tropics and cold air equatorward from the poles. The effect of the three cells is the tendency to even out the heat and moisture in the Earth's atmosphere around the planet. [10]

Synoptic scale observations and concepts


Forcing is a term used by meteorologists to describe the situation where a change or an event in one part of the atmosphere causes a strengthening change in another part of the atmosphere. It is usually used to describe connections between upper, middle or lower levels (such as upper-level divergence causing lower level convergence in cyclone formation), but also be to describe such connections over lateral distance rather than height alone. In some respects, teleconnections could be considered a type of forcing..

Divergence and convergence

An area of convergence is one in which the total mass of air is increasing with time, resulting in an increase in pressure at locations below the convergence level (recall that atmospheric pressure is just the total weight of air above a given point). Divergence is the opposite of convergence – an area where the total mass of air is decreasing with time, resulting in falling pressure in regions below the area of divergence. Where divergence is occurring in the upper atmosphere, there will be air coming in to try to balance the net loss of mass (this is called the principle of mass conservation), and there is a resulting upward motion (positive vertical velocity). Another way to state this is to say that regions of upper air divergence are conducive to lower level convergence, cyclone formation, and positive vertical velocity. Therefore, identifying regions of upper air divergence is an important step in forecasting the formation of a surface low pressure area.

See also

Related Research Articles

The tropopause is the boundary in the Earth's atmosphere between the troposphere and the stratosphere. It is a thermodynamic gradient stratification layer, marking the end of troposphere. It lies, on average, at 17 kilometres (11 mi) above equatorial regions, and above 9 kilometres (5.6 mi) over the polar regions.

Atmosphere of Earth Layer of gases surrounding the planet Earth

The atmosphere of Earth is the layer of gases, commonly known as air, that surrounds the planet Earth and is retained by Earth's gravity. 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.

The lapse rate is the rate at which an atmospheric variable, normally temperature in Earth's atmosphere, changes with altitude. Lapse rate arises from the word lapse, in the sense of a gradual change. It corresponds to the vertical component of the spatial gradient of temperature. Although this concept is most often applied to the Earth's troposphere, it can be extended to any gravitationally supported parcel of gas.

Equivalent potential temperature, commonly referred to as theta-e , is a quantity that is conserved during changes to an air parcel's pressure, even if water vapor condenses during that pressure change. It is therefore more conserved than the ordinary potential temperature, which remains constant only for unsaturated vertical motions.

Alpine climate average weather (climate) for the regions above the tree line

Alpine climate is the average weather (climate) for the regions above the tree line. This climate is also referred to as a mountain climate or highland climate.

The density of air or atmospheric density, denoted ρ, is the mass per unit volume of Earth's atmosphere. Air density, like air pressure, decreases with increasing altitude. It also changes with variation in atmospheric pressure, temperature and humidity. At 1013,25 hPa (abs) and 15°C, air has a density of approximately 1.225 kg/m³ according to ISA.

The barometric formula, sometimes called the exponential atmosphere or isothermal atmosphere, is a formula used to model how the pressure of the air changes with altitude. The pressure drops approximately by 11.3 Pa per meter in first 1000 meters above sea level.

The pressure-gradient force is the force which results when there is a difference in pressure across a surface. In general, a pressure is a force per unit area, across a surface. A difference in pressure across a surface then implies a difference in force, which can result in an acceleration according to Newton's second law of motion, if there is no additional force to balance it. The resulting force is always directed from the region of higher-pressure to the region of lower-pressure. When a fluid is in an equilibrium state, the system is referred to as being in hydrostatic equilibrium. In the case of atmospheres, the pressure gradient force is balanced by the gravitational force, maintaining hydrostatic equilibrium. In Earth's atmosphere, for example, air pressure decreases at altitudes above Earth's surface, thus providing a pressure gradient force which counteracts the force of gravity on the atmosphere.

Convective available potential energy

In meteorology, convective available potential energy, is the amount of energy a clump of air (parcel) would have if lifted a certain distance vertically through the atmosphere. CAPE is effectively the positive buoyancy of an air parcel and is an indicator of atmospheric instability, which makes it very valuable in predicting severe weather. It is a form of fluid instability found in thermally stratified atmospheres in which a colder fluid overlies a warmer one. An air mass will rise if it is less dense than the surrounding air. This can create vertically developed clouds due to the rising motion, which could lead to thunderstorms. It could also be created by other phenomena, such as a cold front. Even if the air is cooler on the surface, there is still warmer air in the mid-levels, that can rise into the upper-levels. However, if there is not enough water vapor present, there is no ability for condensation, thus storms, clouds, and rain will not form.

In various scientific contexts, a scale height is a distance over which a quantity decreases by a factor of e. It is usually denoted by the capital letter H.

The potential temperature of a parcel of fluid at pressure is the temperature that the parcel would attain if adiabatically brought to a standard reference pressure , usually 1000 millibars. The potential temperature is denoted and, for a gas well-approximated as ideal, is given by

Hot tower

A hot tower is a tropical cumulonimbus cloud that reaches out of the lowest layer of the atmosphere, the troposphere, and into the stratosphere. In the tropics, the border between the troposphere and stratosphere, the tropopause, typically lies at least 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) above sea level. These formations are called "hot" because of the large amount of latent heat released as water vapor condenses into liquid and freezes into ice. The presence of hot towers within the eyewall of a tropical cyclone can indicate possible future strengthening.

Convective instability

In meteorology, convective instability or stability of an air mass refers to its ability to resist vertical motion. A stable atmosphere makes vertical movement difficult, and small vertical disturbances dampen out and disappear. In an unstable atmosphere, vertical air movements tend to become larger, resulting in turbulent airflow and convective activity. Instability can lead to significant turbulence, extensive vertical clouds, and severe weather such as thunderstorms.

Lifted condensation level

The lifted condensation level or lifting condensation level (LCL) is formally defined as the height at which the relative humidity (RH) of an air parcel will reach 100% with respect to liquid water when it is cooled by dry adiabatic lifting. The RH of air increases when it is cooled, since the amount of water vapor in the air remains constant, while the saturation vapor pressure decreases almost exponentially with decreasing temperature. If the air parcel is lifting further beyond the LCL, water vapor in the air parcel will begin condensing, forming cloud droplets. The LCL is a good approximation of the height of the cloud base which will be observed on days when air is lifted mechanically from the surface to the cloud base.

A reference atmospheric model describe how the ideal gas properties of an atmosphere change, primarily as a function of altitude, and sometimes also as a function of latitude, day of year, etc. A static atmospheric model has a more limited domain, excluding time. A standard atmosphere is defined by the World Meteorological Organization as "a hypothetical vertical distribution of atmospheric temperature, pressure and density which, by international agreement, is roughly representative of year-round, midlatitude conditions."

Atmospheric thermodynamics is the study of heat-to-work transformations that take place in the earth's atmosphere and manifest as weather or climate. Atmospheric thermodynamics use the laws of classical thermodynamics, to describe and explain such phenomena as the properties of moist air, the formation of clouds, atmospheric convection, boundary layer meteorology, and vertical instabilities in the atmosphere. Atmospheric thermodynamic diagrams are used as tools in the forecasting of storm development. Atmospheric thermodynamics forms a basis for cloud microphysics and convection parameterizations used in numerical weather models and is used in many climate considerations, including convective-equilibrium climate models.

Atmospheric instability

Atmospheric instability is a condition where the Earth's atmosphere is generally considered to be unstable and as a result the weather is subjected to a high degree of variability through distance and time. Atmospheric stability is a measure of the atmosphere's tendency to discourage or deter vertical motion, and vertical motion is directly correlated to different types of weather systems and their severity. In unstable conditions, a lifted thing, such as a parcel of air will be warmer than the surrounding air at altitude. Because it is warmer, it is less dense and is prone to further ascent.

The moist static energy is a thermodynamic variable that describes the state of an air parcel, and is similar to the equivalent potential temperature. The moist static energy is a combination of a parcel's enthalpy due to an air parcel's internal energy and energy required to make room for it, its potential energy due to its height above the surface, and the latent energy due to water vapor present in the air parcel. It is a useful variable for researching the atmosphere because, like several other similar variables, it is approximately conserved during adiabatic ascent and descent.

Vertical pressure variation is the variation in pressure as a function of elevation. Depending on the fluid in question and the context being referred to, it may also vary significantly in dimensions perpendicular to elevation as well, and these variations have relevance in the context of pressure gradient force and its effects. However, the vertical variation is especially significant, as it results from the pull of gravity on the fluid; namely, for the same given fluid, a decrease in elevation within it corresponds to a taller column of fluid weighing down on that point.


  1. "STS-130 Shuttle Mission Imagery". NASA . Retrieved 21 September 2012.
  2. "Troposphere". Concise Encyclopedia of Science & Technology. McGraw-Hill. 1984. It contains about four-fifths of the mass of the whole atmosphere.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Danielson, Levin, and Abrams (2003). Meteorology. McGraw Hill.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
  4. 1 2 Landau and Lifshitz, Fluid Mechanics, Pergamon, 1979
  5. Landau and Lifshitz, Statistical Physics Part 1, Pergamon, 1980
  6. Kittel and Kroemer, Thermal Physics, Freeman, 1980; chapter 6, problem 11
  7. Paul E. Lydolph (1985). "The Climate of the Earth". Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Inc. p. 12.Missing or empty |url= (help)
  8. "American Meteorological Society Glossary – Zonal Flow". Allen Press Inc. June 2000. Archived from the original on 2007-03-13. Retrieved 2006-10-03.
  9. "American Meteorological Society Glossary – Meridional Flow". Allen Press Inc. June 2000. Archived from the original on 2006-10-26. Retrieved 2006-10-03.
  10. "Meteorology – MSN Encarta, "Energy Flow and Global Circulation"". Archived from the original on 2009-10-31. Retrieved 2006-10-13.