I was reading some articles on Jupiter, when I stumbled across this article, which said that the Great Red Spot makes the upper atmosphere really, really hot. As in "hotter-than-lava". This apparently occured due to large sound waves and atmospheric gravity waves (not gravitational waves), produced when large pockets of air collided, producing immense turbulence, that sent atoms into the upper atmosphere and heating it up:

The huge storm emits large sound waves and atmospheric gravity waves – created when large pockets of air collide – with huge amounts of kinetic energy, sending atoms flying around and raising the temperature of the atmosphere above the Spot.

enter image description here

However, I didn't come here to ask about Jupiter's Great Red Spot or anything astronomical. This information is not going to be a actual part of the question, as the information above merely suggests where I got this idea from. The article simply poked my curiosity for atmospheric physics. However let's move onto the real question.

On Earth, we do have large storms. Well not planet-sized storms, but storms the size of entire countries. Typhoon Tip, for example, reached more than 2,000 km in diameter. Typhoon Tip also, was an incredibly turbulent environment, with air pockets colliding. Also, lightning and immense winds could have produced immense sound waves that could have scattered atoms away, and heated up the upper atmosphere to scorching temperatures. It's not just restricted to Typhoon Tip, other energetic hurricanes, like Katrina, Patricia etc. were extremely energetic hurricanes that could have produced sound waves and enough turbulence to heat up the upper atmosphere.

Aside from hurricanes, there are also a plethora of extremely turbulent phenomenon on Earth, such as supercells, derechos, squall lines and so on. These environments have a lot of wind shear, fast winds, updrafts and downdrafts, which have a knack for producing intense turbulence. Rain and hailstones colliding with each other, lightning forming, should produce enough sound and turbulence to heat up the upper atmosphere.

Yet this phenomenon does not occur on Earth. Earth's upper atmosphere is really, really cold, excluding the thermosphere, which is indeed scorching hot, but is diffuse and evenly heated, unlike on Jupiter, where storms heat up the areas of the upper atmosphere above them.

Why don't terrestrial storms heat up the upper atmosphere?


1 Answer 1


It's first important to distinguish what you mean by the upper atmosphere. Weather occurs in the troposphere. The tropopause (boundary between troposphere and stratosphere, which is a dynamic boundary) generally prevents mixing between the two lower layers of the atmosphere.

Meteorologists generally think of the upper atmosphere as upper layers in the troposphere, usually looking at information up to the 250mb pressure surface level, where the jet streams typically exist. In this sense, both tropical cyclones (which are more like heat engines) pump heat from the surface upwards into this upper atmosphere. The same goes for extratropical cyclones (frontal systems) in which cold air pushes underneath warm air, lifting the warmer air mass.

In both of these cases, heat is moved upwards, but it is free to radiate to space at the upper levels of the troposphere because the atmosphere above the tropopause is almost entirely transparent to infrared radiation. As far as the upper troposphere is concerned, infrared radiation is constantly escaping to space while atmospheric motions are also moving heat up and down through the troposphere. All infrared radiation at the surface of Earth attempts to escape to space. Greenhouse gases and clouds primarily slow down/prevent the escape of some of this radiation. That is why greenhouse gases (in appropriate concentrations) are necessary for life on Earth, without them, all the infrared radiation would escape to space and Earth would be unbearably cold.

The chemical composition at a given level in any planetary atmosphere determines how solar and terrestrial radiation will be "handled." On Earth, the ozone layer in the stratosphere interacts strongly with certain wavelengths of UV radiation, but not IR radiation. On other planets like Jupiter and Venus, there are gaseous compositions at upper levels of the atmospheres that may interact more strongly with IR radiation. Or, as you mentioned, may be heated by friction due to other forms of energy transfer.

Info on tropical cyclones: https://www.noaa.gov/jetstream/tropical/tropical-cyclone-introduction


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.