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Whatisatmosphere?

TheatmosphereofEarthisalayerofgasessurroundingtheplanetEarththatisretainedbyEarth's
gravity.TheatmosphereprotectslifeonEarthbyabsorbingultravioletsolarradiation,warmingthe
surfacethroughheatretention(greenhouseeffect),andreducingtemperatureextremesbetween
dayandnight(thediurnaltemperaturevariation).
TheenvelopeofgassurroundingtheEarthchangesfromthegroundup.Fourdistinctlayershave
beenidentifiedusing...

thermalcharacteristics(temperaturechanges),

chemicalcomposition,

movement,and

density.

Eachofthelayersareboundedby"pauses"wherethemaximumchangesinthermalcharacteristics,
chemicalcomposition,movement,anddensityoccur.

LayersoftheAtmosphere

Scientists divided the atmosphere into four layers according to temperature: troposphere,
stratosphere,mesosphere,andthermosphere.
TROPOSPHERE:ThisisthelayeroftheatmosphereclosesttotheEarth'ssurface,extendingupto
about 1015 km above the Earth's surface. It contains 75% of the atmosphere's mass. The
troposphereiswiderattheequatorthanatthepoles.Mostoftheweatherphenomenatakeplace
inthislayer.Thetropospherecontainalmostallthewatervapourandmostofthedust.Thislayer
issubjectedtointensemixingduebothhorizontalandverticalmixing.Temperaturedecreaseswith
heightatanaveragerateof10Cper167mofheightabovesealevel.Thisiscalledthenormallapse
rate.Thetroposphereextendsuptoaheightofabout18kmattheequatoranddeclinesgradually
toaheightof8kmatthepoles.Theupperlimitofthetroposphereiscalledthetropopause.The
temperature stops decreasing in it. It may be as low as 580C. All weather changes occur in the
troposphere.Sinceitcontainsmostofthewatervapour,cloudsformsinthislayer.
STRATOSPHERE:Thislayerliesdirectlyabovethetroposphereandisabout35kmdeep.Itextends
fromabout15to50kmabovetheEarth'ssurface.Thestratospherecontainsathinlayerofozone
molecules(withthreeoxygenatoms)whichformsaprotectivelayershieldinglifeonEarthfromthe

TutorialNotesbyDrIndrajitChakraborty,DeptofChemistry,KIITU

Suns harmful ultraviolet radiation. In the stratosphere, the temperature remains isothermal until
about 20 km. Then a strange thing happens--the temperature actually begins to increase with altitude.
From a temperature of about -56.5C at 20 km, it increases to -2.5C at 50 km.Thetemperatureinthe
stratosphereincreaseswithheight.Theverticalstratification,withwarmerlayersaboveandcooler
layers below, makes the stratosphere dynamically stable: there is no regular convection and
associated turbulence in this part of the atmosphere. The top of the stratosphere is called the
stratopause,abovewhichthetemperaturedecreaseswithheight.

MESOSPHERE: Directly above the stratosphere, extending from 50 to 80 km above the Earth's
surface,themesosphereisacoldlayerwherethetemperaturegenerallydecreaseswithincreasing
altitude.Thegases,includingtheoxygenmolecules,continuetobecomethinnerandthinnerwith
height.Assuch,theeffectofthewarmingbyultravioletradiationalsobecomeslessandlessleading
toadecreaseintemperaturewithheight.Onaverage,temperaturedecreasesfromabout15Cto
aslowas120Catthemesopause.

THERMOSPHERE:TheThermosphereextendsfromthemesopauseto430miles(690km)abovethe
earth.Thetemperatureishotandmaybeashighasthousandsofdegreesasthefewmoleculesthat
arepresentinthethermospherereceiveextraordinarylargeamountsofenergyfromtheSun.The
gasesofthethermosphereareincreasinglythinnerthaninthemesosphere.Assuch,incominghigh
energyultravioletandxrayradiationfromthesun,absorbedbythemoleculesinthislayer,causes
alargetemperatureincrease.Becauseofthisabsorption,thetemperatureincreaseswithheight
andcanreachashighas2,000Cnearthetopofthislayer;however,despitethehightemperature,
thislayeroftheatmospherewouldstillfeelverycoldtoourskinbecauseoftheextremelythinair.
Thetotalamountofenergyfromtheveryfewmoleculesinthislayerisnotenoughtoheatourskin.
masses.Incontrast,thegasesinthehomosphere(consistingofthetroposphere,stratosphereand
mesosphere) are uniformly distributed. In thermosphere, the atmosphere is so thin that free
electronscanexistforshortperiodsoftimebeforetheyarecapturedbyanearbypositiveion.The
number of these free electrons is sufficient to affect radio propagation. This portion of the
atmosphereisionizedandcontainsaplasmawhichisreferredtoastheionosphere.

EXOSPHERE: The Exosphere is the outermost layer of the atmosphere. It extends from the
thermopause - the transition boundary which separates the exosphere from the thermosphere below -

TutorialNotesbyDrIndrajitChakraborty,DeptofChemistry,KIITU

to 6,200 miles (10,000 km) above the earth. In this layer, atoms and molecules escape into space and
satellites orbit the earth.

Layer Structure of Atmosphere and Variation of Temperature Profile at Different Layers

HowtheSunTransmitsEnergytoEarth.?

There are three mechanisms by which energy is transmitted: conduction, convection and radiation.
[Conduction: is a mechanism of energy transfer that occurs when two objects that have different
temperatures are placed in direct contact with one other. Heat energy flows from the hotter object to
the cooler object.

Convection is a mechanism of energy transfer that occurs in fluids. It happens through rolling motion.
The roiling motion distributes heat from the hotter regions of the fluid to the cooler regions of the fluid.
Radiation is energy transfer via electromagnetic waves. The infrared heat from an electric heater is an
example of heat transfer via radiation as is the warmth you feel outside from the sun on a clear day.]
Energy in the sun is created in the thermonuclear core and is transmitted outward to the surface
of the sun (the photosphere) via radiation and convection. The sun is a blackbody whose surface
temperature may be determined from its color via Wiens Law. This energy is radiated away from the sun
in all directions. Energy from the surface of the sun reaches the top of the earths atmosphere via
electromagnetic radiation (sunlight). Earths atmosphere generally absorbs very little sunlight. Since the

TutorialNotesbyDrIndrajitChakraborty,DeptofChemistry,KIITU

atmosphere is nominally transparent to visible light it is the presence of aerosols and clouds that reflect
and scatter the 30% of sunlight that does not penetrate the atmosphere. Of the sunlight that reaches the
earths surface, approximately 1/3 is absorbed and converted to IR (blackbody effect). The remaining
sunlight is reflected/scattered back into the atmosphere from the earths surface. Earths atmosphere
absorbs and scatters IR (the greenhouse effect), thus heating the environment. Greenhouse gasses
include water vapor, carbon dioxide and methane. The atmosphere is also heated by conduction in
the boundary layer. The boundary layer is the layer of air within a meter of so of the ground. Although
air is generally not a good conductor of heat, the amount of air in contact with large patches of ground
eventually becomes heated due simply to the large areas involved.
Heat-Balance: Since incoming radiation heats the atmosphere and the Earth through absorption,
these two regions should continue to get hotter and hotter. That this does not happen is due to a
complex system of re-radiation from the Earth and clouds. Over a long period, the heat loss from
the Earth and atmosphere is equal to the heat gain. However, temporary imbalances exist at some
points on Earth.

TutorialNotesbyDrIndrajitChakraborty,DeptofChemistry,KIITU

TutorialNotesbyDrIndrajitChakraborty,DeptofChemistry,KIITU