WX 101: Layers Of The Atmosphere

Our atmosphere protects us from the sun, asteroids, and creates our weather.  The image above shows the different layers of the atmosphere, all the way to 40,000 miles above the earth's surface.  Below we explain what occurs in each layer. 

Troposphere
This is the lowest level of the atmosphere where weather forms and where we live.  It goes up to 10 miles above the earth's surface.  Although it makes up much less than 1% of height of the atmosphere, 75% of the mass of the atmosphere is in this layer.  The troposphere is the most thick at the equator, but can be as thin as 5 miles at the north and south poles.  Also, the top of the troposphere can be as low as 103 degrees F below zero. 

Stratosphere 
This layer exists 10 to 31 miles above the surface of the earth.  This is where the protective ozone layer exists and it peaks at about 14 miles above the surface of the earth.  20% of the atmosphere's mass exists in this layer and the temperature actually rises with altitude in this layer.  The top of the stratosphere has a temperature of about 30 degrees Fahrenheit.  Also, some commercial aircraft will fly in the lowest level of the stratosphere. 

Mesosphere 
The temperature takes a dip as you rise through this layer with the mercury dropping to as low as -130 degrees Fahrenheit at the top of the layer.  The layer starts about 31 miles above the earth's surface and goes up to 50 miles above the earth's surface.  When we see shooting starts, or meteors, this is where they are burning up. 

Thermosphere  
The mesosphere is the real first step into space as the temperature will rise when the sun shines on the layer.  The air is very thing, but absorbs a lot of solar radiation.  Therefore, the temperature can reach to over 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  This large layer that spans from 50 miles to 400 miles above the earth's surface actually contains two sub-layers; the ionosphere and the magnetosphere.  The magnetosphere has charged particles that are affected by the Earth's magnetic field and when a solar storm interacts with them, the Northern and Southern Lights will be seen.  The ionosphere has electrically charged particles that from time to time can help, or hinder radio broadcasts.  

Exosphere 
The final layer of the atmosphere is a large, but contains very little mass.  The Exosphere spans from 400 to 40,000 miles above the earth's surface.  The air becomes nothing as molecules drift off into space. 

 

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