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Question:
Question pertained to temperature and the altitude in the atmosphere.


Replies:
You're absolutely right about the lapse rate and the thermodynamic laws governing temperature change with altitude. I was afraid that that explanation or discussion might be a little advanced for the person who asked the question about why the air was warmer near the earth's surface rather than at the top of the atmosphere, closer to the sun.

The actual lapse rate as observed by weather balloons, and other sensors, are of great interest to forecasters, as that is an indication of dynamic changes taking place in the atmosphere, and that information is very useful in weather forecasting.

Sorry for any confusion my previous answer may have caused.

Wendell Bechtold, Meteorologist
Forecaster, National Weather Service
Weather Forecast Office, St. Louis, MO


The general rule of thumb used by meteorologists is that temperature decreases approximately 3.6 degrees F per 1000 feet in the Troposphere (the lowest layer of the atmosphere, where we live). This is an average value and varies from season to season. The decrease is slightly less in the summer and slightly greater in the winter.

David Cook,
meteorologist at Argonne Nat. Lab.


The lapse rate (in the Troposphere) would be much larger without atmospheric mixing. But convection (the rising of warmer air parcels, warmed primarily by energy from warm surfaces below) has to occur since warm air rises. Horizontal advection of air masses of different temperatures by the atmospheric circulation also contribute to the distribution of energy in the atmosphere. Warming of the atmosphere takes place at all levels, especially where there is an abundance of water vapor or aerosols to absorb energy. As air is warmed, it expands and being lighter than the surrounding air, it wants to rise. This is called convection. Altogether, these processes result in the average lapse rate of 3.6 degrees F per 1000 feet in the troposphere. Thermodynamics, which includes the ideal gas law and hydrostatic equation (pressure-gradient force) is only one of the aspects of meteorology that determine the lapse rate.

David Cook
meteorologist at Argonne Nat. Lab.


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