Temperature inversion refers to a deviation from the typical vertical temperature profile in the Earth’s atmosphere. Normally, air temperature decreases with increasing altitude, which is known as a lapse rate. However, during a temperature inversion, the usual temperature pattern is reversed, and the temperature increases with altitude instead.
In a temperature inversion, a layer of warm air lies above a layer of cool air near the Earth’s surface. This situation is contrary to the normal pattern and can lead to various atmospheric phenomena and effects on weather conditions.
Temperature inversions commonly occur during the nighttime or in certain geographical conditions. They are often associated with clear skies, calm winds, and stable atmospheric conditions. The lack of significant vertical mixing prevents the warm air above from mixing with the cooler air below, resulting in the inversion.
Temperature inversions have several important implications. Some of them include:
- Trapping of pollutants: Temperature inversions act as a lid, trapping pollutants close to the ground. This effect is particularly noticeable in urban areas with high levels of pollution. The stagnant air prevents the dispersal of pollutants, leading to poor air quality.
- Fog and low cloud formation: Temperature inversions can promote the formation of fog and low clouds. When moist air is trapped beneath a layer of warm air, the moisture condenses, leading to the formation of fog or low-lying clouds.
- Temperature distribution: Inversions can create significant temperature differences over short vertical distances. For example, while the surface may experience cold temperatures, higher altitudes within the inversion layer may be considerably warmer. This variation in temperature can affect the behavior of weather systems and air masses.
- Impact on aviation: Temperature inversions can cause turbulence for aircraft flying through them. The sudden change in temperature and stability can create challenging flying conditions and affect the performance of the aircraft.
It’s important to note that temperature inversions are temporary atmospheric conditions and can dissipate as the sun rises and heats the surface, promoting vertical mixing and disrupting the inversion.