Temperature Inversions Explained | WNYT.com

Temperature Inversions Explained

Reid Kisselback
Updated: November 10, 2020 10:25 AM
Created: November 10, 2020 10:22 AM

Some of you may have woken up today to an air quality alert and may have wondered why it is in effect. This is all thanks to what we call a temperature inversion.

Temperature inversions are not uncommon as we get into the fall and winter months due to less sunlight and stronger high-pressure systems. This helps prevent the air from mixing. To explain what a temperature inversion is, we must first discuss what is a normal set up is.

Normal Atmospheric Temperature Setup | Normal Atmospheric Temperature Setup |
 

On a normal day at the surface of the Earth, we typically have warm air rising and cooling the further up into the atmosphere it goes allowing for air particles to mix. When we have an inversion setup, colder air becomes trapped at Earth’s surface (cold air is more dense than warm air so it will not rise). As a result, there is now a warm layer of air just above the cold layer near the surface. This acts as a barrier and won’t allow anything to mix up. With this barrier in place particles like pollutants and smoke can get mixed up in the atmosphere but stay trapped below that barrier (keeping those pollutants closer to the surface) and can sometimes lead to poor air quality conditions.

Temperature Inversion Setup | Temperature Inversion Setup |
 

Typically with sunshine in the afternoon the inversion will weaken or break all together, allowing things to mix in all levels of the atmosphere and clearing the lower levels of the pollution.


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