The Troposphere

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. The average depths of the troposphere are 20 km (12 mi) in the tropics, 17 km (11 mi) in the mid latitudes, and 7 km (4.3 mi) in the polar regions in winter. 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) 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.

The word troposphere derives from the Greek: tropos for “turn, turn toward, trope” 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.

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.

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