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Why does the temperature of the atmosphere vary?

The atmosphere is made up of parts called regions. The lowest region is called the troposphere. This is the region that we live and breathe in. In the troposphere, the temperature goes down as you move away from the surface of the Earth.

The next region, called the stratosphere, increases as you move higher! The section in between the troposphere and stratosphere is called the tropopause. The temperature doesn't change in this area.

The stratopause is just above the stratosphere, and next is the mesosphere. The mesosphere is like the troposphere, the temperature gets colder as you move up. Finally, there is the mesopause and then the thermosphere. The thermosphere is like the stratosphere, it get hotter as you move up!

So you see, the temperature changes a lot as you move higher. This is why there can be snow on top of a mountain even in the summer. Because at the top of the mountain it is still very cold!

Submitted by Kenneth Loose (Medicine Hat, AB Canada)
(January 6, 2000)

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF