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Weather Forecasting Advice: Getting Acquainted With The Ionosphere

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The ionosphere is a layer of our atmosphere that lies immediately above the mesosphere; its name comes from the fact that within this gaseous layer there are free ions thanks to the ultraviolet (UV) radiation that comes from the Sun and its absorbed by the higher atmospheric layers.

The ionosphere is what facilitates long-range (high frequency) radio communications because its effect on those waves coming from Earth's surface is reflective, meaning that they bounce on the ionosphere and fall back to the surface at a given angle.

Only a ver small proportion of those waves gets refracted and lost into outer space; most of them return to the surface or lower atmospheric layers, but due to their reflection angle, once they reach lower heights they would normally have moved and fall somewhere else than the spot from where they had been transmited.

The ionosphere is divided for study reasons into various sub-regions:

Region D: found between 60 and 80 km high, it is formed mainly by ozone ions. This is our proverbial 'Ozone Layer.'

Region E: also known as Heavyside-Kennelly region, it is found at about 80 and 200 km high, measured ASL, and it has mostly oxigen ions in its composition.

Region F: also known as Appleton layer, it is usually divided in two smaller layers called F1 and F2 where nitrogen ions abound.

Región F: conocida como capa de Appleton, se la suele dividir en dos capas F1 y F2, en las cuales encontramos Nitrógeno ionizado.

There are some significant seasonal and geographical changes affecting these layers. Other factors have remarkable influence over the ionosphere, such as the contamination produced by humans. Chemical substances become ions in these layers because the ionosphere acts as a natural fitering device that absorbs energy an dtransmits it to the gas molecules fond there, alterin electronic orbitals and thus freeing ions.

In other words, the same property that protects us from space radiation is what makes the ionosphere survive, because it is its main source of energy. If we contaminate it with dust, smoke or reactive substances, many of which may react with ionospheric ions in an irreversible way, we will break this equilibrium and thus, in the long term, receive more dangerous radiation.

This is the case of the ozone layer; the presence of fluorocarbons there affects the layer's filtering properties and thus, as more of these substances get into the higher atmosphere, the more UV radiation we receive.

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