Temperature inversion

Definition of Temperature Inversion

A temperature inversion denotes an atmospheric anomaly where the ordinary temperature gradient inverts, leading to an increase in temperature with altitude rather than a decrease. Normally, air temperature declines with elevation, rendering air near the ground cooler and denser. A temperature inversion disrupts this pattern, thereby causing a layer of warm air to be confined above a layer of cool air at the Earth's surface.

Causes of Temperature Inversions

Radiative Inversions: A prevalent reason for temperature inversions is radiative cooling at the Earth's surface, a phenomenon observed on still, clear nights when the ground swiftly dissipates heat into the atmosphere. This swift cooling can lead the surface air to be colder than the air above it, giving rise to a temperature inversion.

Subsidence Inversions: Subsidence of air in high-pressure systems is another trigger for temperature inversions. As air descends, it undergoes compression and warming, potentially forming an inversion layer when this warmed air overlays a cooler surface.

Frontal Inversions: Temperature inversions may develop along weather fronts, where the interplay of cold and warm air masses forces the warm air to ascend over the colder air.

Effects of Temperature Inversions

Air Quality: Temperature inversions considerably impact air quality by confining pollutants near the ground, thereby heightening the levels of particulate matter, ozone, and other detrimental substances. This can degrade air quality and create health hazards for residents of impacted regions.

Fog Formation: Inversions can also instigate fog formation when trapped cool air near the surface reaches moisture saturation. This condition can diminish visibility and create hazardous driving conditions.

Sound Propagation: The propagation of sound can also be influenced by temperature inversions, causing sound waves to refract and travel further. This may cause distant sounds to seem nearer than their actual position.

Breaking Temperature Inversions

Mixing: Processes that stir the atmosphere, including strong winds or the growth of convective clouds, can disrupt temperature inversions. Such mixing can aid in dispersing trapped pollutants, thereby improving air quality.

Diurnal Cycle: The diurnal cycle of heating and cooling can contribute to the disruption of temperature inversions. With the rise of the sun and the subsequent heating of the Earth's surface, the temperature gradient might restore to its normal state, enabling the dispersion of trapped pollutants and fog.
Updated: May 30, 2023
Published by: Weather U.S. | About Us