Stratosphere and Troposphere Are Discovered Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Drawing on experimental balloon measurements of atmospheric temperature versus height, Léon Teisserenc de Bort discovered that the stratosphere and troposphere are vertically layered on the basis of thermal inversion.

Summary of Event

The details of the rate of change of atmospheric temperature versus height have been of basic importance for many years in trying to determine and predict the processes governing weather. For example, the variation of wind with height also depends upon vertical temperature variation. Stratosphere Troposphere Teisserenc de Bort, Léon Weather forecasting [kw]Stratosphere and Troposphere Are Discovered (Apr., 1898-1903) [kw]Troposphere Are Discovered, Stratosphere and (Apr., 1898-1903) [kw]Discovered, Stratosphere and Troposphere Are (Apr., 1898-1903) Stratosphere Troposphere Teisserenc de Bort, Léon Weather forecasting [g]France;Apr., 1898-1903: Stratosphere and Troposphere Are Discovered[6320] [c]Earth science;Apr., 1898-1903: Stratosphere and Troposphere Are Discovered[6320] [c]Chemistry;Apr., 1898-1903: Stratosphere and Troposphere Are Discovered[6320] [c]Physics;Apr., 1898-1903: Stratosphere and Troposphere Are Discovered[6320] [c]Geography;Apr., 1898-1903: Stratosphere and Troposphere Are Discovered[6320] Assmann, Richard

Until the violent eruption of the volcano Krakatoa in the Java Sea in 1883, which produced abnormally high atmospheric concentrations of dust, implying the existence of higher-level global temperature and wind patterns, the body of air above the earth’s surface was considered generally a uniform body. William Morris Davis’s 1894 text, Elementary Meteorology, is representative of knowledge of the upper atmosphere before large-scale kite and balloon soundings. Davis simply divides the earth into geosphere (rock), hydrosphere (water), and atmosphere (air). An empirical formula for atmospheric temperature gradient was developed by Austrian meteorologist Julius Ferdinand von Hann in 1874, based on indirect atmospheric measures such as astronomical observations of the duration of twilight and of meteor burns. Davis proposed that successive isobaric (equipressure) surfaces are separated by greater and greater distances indefinitely out into space. Here, the general distribution of temperature with elevation is simply illustrated as a nearly linear decreasing function.

Balloon ascents to measure upper air temperature were first undertaken by John Jeffries and Jean-Pierre-François Blanchard in 1784 and subsequently by Jean-Baptiste Biot Biot, Jean-Baptiste and Joseph-Louis Gay-Lussac in 1804, and continued in England in 1852. Factors influencing balloon performance included the excess of buoyancy forces over balloon gross weight (including human observers) and the maximum size to which the balloon’s silk or India rubber Rubber;and balloons[Balloons] envelope would expand in response to decreasing atmospheric pressure. These factors control both maximum ascent ceiling and ascent rate. The need for light gases, such as hydrogen or helium Helium , is to keep the balloon’s envelope sufficiently distended. The buoyancy force, which arises from Archimedes’ principle, is equal to the air mass displaced by the balloon. As the balloon rises, the air density falls by a factor of about ten for every 6.2 miles (10 kilometers) of ascent, and the balloon’s envelope expands in exact proportion to falling density.

Prior to 1890, balloon observations were, for the most part, limited to heights of only a few kilometers by human oxygen consumption, recording mainly local rather than regional or global temperature behaviors. The first attempts at global isothermal charts were published by Hann in Vienna and Alexander Buchan in Edinburgh in 1887 and 1889, respectively. To overcome the human limitation, kites were first employed by Cleveland Abbe in studying winds under a thundercloud at the Blue Hill Observatory in Massachusetts. Nevertheless, for technical reasons, the maximum altitudes attained by kites were only about 5 miles (8 kilometers).

Because of proven dangers to human life in high ascents, small free rubber balloons carrying recently developed self-recording temperature and pressure recorders were first deployed in 1893 by French aeronomist Georges Besançon Besançon, Georges and were rapidly adopted elsewhere for meteorologic observations. When atmospheric visibility is sufficiently good, larger meteorologic balloons could be followed visually by theodolites to obtain supplementary wind direction data. Theodolites are grid-mounted survey telescopes permitting measurement of height and angular motion. These various observations demonstrated that to at least about 29,500 feet (9,000 meters), temperature decreased in a fairly uniform fashion at a rate of about 1 degree Celsius per every 590-foot (180-meter) rise.

After extensive work in Europe and North Africa with the French government undertaking barometric and other weather observations, in 1897, Léon Teisserenc de Bort founded his own private aeronomic observatory at Trappes near Paris. Earlier, Teisserenc de Bort had pioneered self-recording temperature and barometric pressure sensors; the Austrian physicist Richard Assmann Assmann, Richard developed the first self-recording hygrometer to measure atmospheric humidity. Using hydrogen-filled balloons specially designed for rapid and near-vertical ascents, Teisserenc de Bort named his surveys “soundings” or “sondings,” in analogy to bathymetric depth soundings by sonde-line or acoustic sound at sea. A critical factor was sufficient protection of thermometers from direct solar radiation, as well as recorders that could respond to changing temperature faster than the balloon would rise.

In April, 1898, Teisserenc de Bort used his improved apparatus to begin a long series of regular balloon soundings from Trappes, France. Among other details, he soon discovered unusual temperature records, first believed to be instrument errors, of constant or even increasing temperature conditions from the extreme upper limits of his balloon’s ascents. After precluding instrument error and repeating many measurements, in 1899, he published a report indicating that temperatures at heights above which the atmospheric pressure falls below 0.1 (100 millibars) cease to decline with altitude but remain constant over a specific height interval, thereafter slowly increasing.

In his papers of 1904 in the noted French journal Comptes rendus physique and his own Travaux scientifiques de l’Observatoire de météorologie de Trappes (1909), Teisserenc de Bort gave mean temperatures versus height measured at Trappes between 1899 and 1903. Out of 581 balloon ascents, 141 attained temperature “isothermal” and “inverted” measurements at height records of 8.7 miles (14 kilometers) or more. His data showed that there is a slow temperature decrease up to about 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) above sea level. This is followed by a more rapid decrease up to about 10 kilometers. A very slow or total lack of decrease was measured between 6.8 and 8.7 miles (11-14 kilometers), with an ambient temperature of about -55 degrees Celsius. He called this the “thermal” zone or boundary.

Teisserenc de Bort’s observations were almost concurrently confirmed by Assmann’s Assmann, Richard independent series of ascents from Berlin. Assmann and Artur Berson, beginning in 1887, undertook a more extensive series of upper atmospheric soundings, under the aegis of the Prussian Meteorological Office and Aeronautical Section of the German Army, and later as an independent scientific station at Lindenberg. The details of their seventy ascents between 1887 to 1889 were the first published aeronometric measurements of temperature for several locations, in 1900, and thereafter published regularly in the German journal Das Wetter. From a particularly long series of kite soundings from Berlin between October, 1902, and December, 1903, Assmann showed that atmospheric temperature is much more variable at altitudes of 3.5-4 miles (6-7 kilometers) than at ground level.

The effects of diurnal and seasonal changes on upper-level temperatures were also measured. Following the systematic planned simultaneous ascents from many European cities between 1895 and 1899, Assmann assembled a database of more than one thousand of his own observations, with 581 of Teisserenc de Bort, and others from England, Holland, and the Soviet Union, enabling him to compute monthly and annual temperature and wind velocity averages of many altitudes between 0 and 8.7 miles (11 kilometers) over central Europe. Assmann also argued that at about 9 miles (12 kilometers), the upper limit for cirrus clouds, temperature remains constant and later increases slowly. The atmospheric region above these heights of constant temperature was called the stratosphere, the lower region nearest the ground was called the troposphere, and the transition zone was called the tropopause. The mesosphere and thermosphere are above the stratosphere.


Meteorologic sounding heights of more than 15 miles (25 kilometers) were achieved in France and Belgium between 1905 and 1907. The Fifth Conference of the International Committee on Scientific Aeronautics at Milan in 1906 saw an increasing number of measurements confirming the temperature results of Teisserenc de Bort and Assmann Assmann, Richard , notably kite ascents from 1904 to 1905 from the Soviet Union. These data established that above an altitude that geographically varied from about 11 miles (18 kilometers) from the equator to about 6.8 miles (11 kilometers) at 50 degrees north latitude to only about 3.5 miles (6 kilometers) at the poles, atmospheric temperature remained approximately constant over a certain level. (The English meteorologist W. Dines subsequently showed that the stratosphere is high and cold over high pressure and low and warm over low pressure.)

As soon as diverse independent observations had established the troposphere/tropopause/stratosphere, many efforts were made to explain the occurrence of stationary upper-level discontinuities on the basis of the rapidly developing hydrothermodynamics of Vilhelm Bjerknes, Ludwig Prandtl, and others—initially, however, with only very limited success. In 1909, W. Humphreys in the United States and F. Gold in England published what became essentially the generally accepted explanation. In both approaches, it was recognized that it is necessary to consider the thermodynamic balance between absorbed and reemitted solar radiation.

Humphreys’ account is less mathematical Mathematics;and meteorology[Meteorology] but equivalent to Gold’s account. Briefly, since the average annual temperature in the atmosphere at any location had been shown experimentally not to vary greatly, Humphreys concluded that the absorption of solar radiation is equal basically to the net outgoing reradiation by Earth (discovered previously by S. Langley), using a simple thermodynamic “black body” model. Humphreys concluded that the isothermal/tropopause zone marks the limit of vertical thermal convection and, from this, correctly deduced that the above-lying layers are warmed almost entirely by direct solar radiation (later shown to be dependent upon atmospheric ozone). The increasing temperature trend was shown later to be caused directly by the heat released during the interaction between incoming ultraviolet radiation and atmospheric ozone molecules.

Further direct and indirect studies of the stratosphere and troposphere continued by a variety of means. In studies of ground versus air waves from earthquakes Earthquakes by Emil Wiechert in 1904, and later during World War I, it was noted that loud noises could be heard occasionally at distances ranging from 90 miles (150 kilometers) to more than 240 miles (400 kilometers) from their source, even when observers near the source could barely hear the sounds.

Subsequent studies of the stratosphere by Earth-orbiting satellites include the mapping of the (polar) jet streams and the twenty-six-month quasi-biennial cycle. The original motivation and basis for these and other studies, however, remain the methods and results of Teisserenc de Bort and Assmann Assmann, Richard .

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Anthes, Richard A., et al. The Atmosphere. 3d ed. Columbus, Ohio: Charles Merrill, 1981. A good general-reader text incorporating almost all meteorologic techniques and findings up to the late 1970’s.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Davis, William Morris. Elementary Meteorology. Boston: Ginn, 1894. Representative of atmospheric science prior to the experimental results of Teisserenc de Bort and Assmann and the dynamic meteorologic theory of Bjerknes. Widely available.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Goody, Richard M. The Physics of the Stratosphere. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1954. A technical account devoted to stratospheric processes. Recommended.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Humphreys, W. J. The Physics of the Air. New York: Dover, 1964. Historical-technical account of upper atmospheric science.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. “Vertical Temperature Gradient of the Atmosphere, Especially in the Region of the Upper Inversion.” Astrophysical Journal 29 (1909): 14-26. The first detailed study to incorporate and explain the stratosphere and tropopause in the context of physical theories of atmospheric heating and thermodynamics.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Massey, Harrie Stewart Wilson. The Middle Atmosphere as Observed by Balloons, Rockets, and Satellites. London: Royal Society, 1980. General descriptions of many remote sensing methods and typical self-recording instruments.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Pielou, E. C. The Energy of Nature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001. An exploration for all readers into the effects of natural energies upon the earth. Includes the chapters “Solar Energy and the Upper Atmosphere,” “Energy in the Lower Atmosphere: The Weather Near the Ground,” and “The Warmth of the Earth: Nuclear Reactions Sustain All Life.” Includes illustrations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Seinfeld, John H., and Spyros N. Pandis. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics: From Air Pollution to Climate Change. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1998. A massive textbook, with more than thirteen hundred pages and hundreds of illustrations, covering the physics and chemistry of Earth’s atmosphere. The authors give special attention to, for example, aerosols, the meteorology of air pollution, and the formation and chemistry of clouds. For advanced students.

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Wiechert Invents the Inverted Pendulum Seismograph

Related Article in <i>Great Lives from History: The Nineteenth Century, 1801-1900</i>

Joseph-Louis Gay-Lussac. Stratosphere Troposphere Teisserenc de Bort, Léon Weather forecasting

Categories: History