Water loss in upper atmosphere

Water loss in upper atmosphere

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Credit: JON LOMBERG/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Caption: Water loss in the upper atmosphere. Illustration of the removal of water from the upper atmosphere. Energetic solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation breaks up water molecules (H2O) at high altitude. The products are hydrogen and atomic oxygen (O). The high temperatures at high altitude, and the low mass of hydrogen, means that the hydrogen escapes to space, and so the water can't reform. Atomic oxygen can form oxygen (O2) and eventually ozone (O3). Water in the lower atmosphere (troposphere) is shielded from the UV radiation (mostly by the ozone) and is trapped under the temperature inversion that marks the tropopause. This results in a wet troposphere and a dry upper atmosphere.

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