What’s the Troposphere?

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The Earth’s atmosphere has four layers classified by temperature, with the troposphere being the closest to the Earth and responsible for weather phenomena. The troposphere varies in thickness and contains gases that sustain life, but also unwanted greenhouse gases. It is highly active and interacts with the Earth in numerous ways, producing winds, clouds, and storms. The tropopause separates the troposphere from the stratosphere, which contains the ozone layer. The gases in the troposphere affect the ozone layer, creating holes that fail to protect people from the sun’s harmful rays.

Earth’s atmosphere is divided into four layers which are partially based on height, but are also classified according to temperature. The bottom layer, or the layer closest to the earth, is called the troposphere. The other layers that rise from the troposphere are the stratosphere, mesosphere and thermosphere. Some scientists include a fifth category called the exosphere. The lowest level of the atmosphere consistently has a significant effect on people because it is where nearly all atmospheric conditions occur.

The troposphere cannot simply be classified by height, as it can vary in its thickness and also seasonally changes in thickness in various locations. Another factor that can change the thickness of this layer is the latitude of a specific location. This section of the atmosphere can be said to be about 7-8 miles (about 12 km) thick, but it is also generally shallower at Earth’s poles and deeper near the equator.

In addition to being responsible for most weather phenomena, the troposphere also contains those gases that help sustain life on earth. Unfortunately the density of this lower section of the atmosphere and the layers that press upon it also keep many unwanted gases circulating, including various greenhouse gases. These can have an overall effect on the climate and also on the warmth of the air. However, in general, as the troposphere rises in height, its temperature drops.

When people look at images or graphical representations of the layers of the atmosphere, they may appear to be motionless, which creates a false idea that these layers are not active. Unlike photos or science book illustrations, people should think of this layer of the atmosphere as highly active. It circulates the air, constantly, and interacts with the earth in numerous ways. It is in constant flux as it responds to the temperature of the earth, the pressure of the strata above it and sunlight, and produces winds, clouds, fogs, storms and sunny weather.

The other important fact that people should recognize about the troposphere is that it is directly under the stratosphere. In reality, a thin layer called the tropopause separates the two. However, most people would commonly know the stratosphere as the area containing the ozone layer.

Like the troposphere, the ozone layer is also thinner at the poles and the gases in this lower layer affect how well the ozone layer works, even creating holes in it that fail to protect people from the sun’s harmful rays. This too should be seen as an interactive process. As people fill the troposphere with noxious gases or pollutants, some of them will seep up and destroy or deplete part of the ozone layer, creating less protection for everyone.

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