P. Edronkin

Weather Forecasting Advice: Getting Acquainted With The Stratosphere And The Stratopause



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The stratosphere is the second atmospheric layer or region, taken from the surface of our planet in an upward direction. Beneath the stratosphere we find the tropopause and the troposphere, which is the region where most of the life on Earth develops.

The highest limit of the stratosphere is found at about 55 kilometres above the sea level (abbreviated as ASL), and this particular atmospheric region is defined by its own characteristics. Precisely, each layer of our atmosphere is defined by different local properties because the composition of the gas mixture found on each of them and its behaviour is different from each other:

In the stratosphere there are practically no clouds.

At its lower heights, as well as in the tropopause and sometimes in the higher troposhere, there are strong winds moving like if they were gaseous rivers, along much slower-moving air masses. This is known as 'Slipstreams' and is used by high-altitude commercial and military aircraft for travelling faster.

Temperature is constant in the stratosphere; almost all heat dissipates from the ground and into the troposphere, but here temperatures remain at about 56,5 degrees Celsius below zero; this is the main reason for the fact that no clouds exist in this layer for lack of water condensation.

Atmospheric pressure is too low for life to be sustained without artificial means or special adaptations.

During WWII, the Japanese - who pioneered the study of slipstreams - used high-attitude unmanned balloons to bomb the continental territory of the United States using incendiary charges that were dropped once over the target. This method was not very precise and produced very few human casualties, albeit a lot of significant forest fires.

During those times, the government of the country kept in strict secret the origin of those attacks, making everyone believe that they had natural causes because the fact that the Japanese could actually bomb the United States would have caused a feeling of impotence and vulnerability among the population.

A couple of times, people have parachuted from the stratosphere (from about 30.000 metres ASL); those who did this reported that even knowing that they were performing long free falls and acquiring high speeds, they felt almost nothing due to the very low pressure found in the stratosphere, and because they also had little visual clues indicating their movement.

Those jumps were performed using pressure suits and with a lot of care since the worst that could happen to high-altitude parachutists is for them to start spinning; centrifugal forces would soon kill anyone in that position.

The highest limit of the stratosphere, which is immediately below the ionosphere - another atmospheric layer - is known as the stratopause, which is defined as a region sharing properties of both the stratosphere and mesosphere, and where a temperature local maximum is reached: the temperature of the stratopause is slightly higher than those of the layers found below and above it.




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