Plotting Atmospheric Temperature Structure and Lapse Rate

This post presents an RClimate script to develop a temperature sounding profile and calculate the ambient lapse rate using University of Wyoming atmospheric sounding data. Understanding atmospheric structure and lapse rate is essential to a full understanding of the role of  greenhouse gases in global warming.


I have been writing a series on Understanding the Science of CO2’s Role in Climate Change:( 1, 2,3), all posted in Oct – Dec, 2009. I am now returning to this series to more fully nail down the physical mechanisms  for myself.

Why bother? A good question that I asked myself as I have read and re-read physics based articles on the greenhouse effects.  I have already written about blackbody radiation and how CO2 and other greenhouse gases trap heat.

Thanks to Climate Etc. reader Nullius in Verba , I realized that many people are confused about the greenhouse effect and there is still much work to be done to help the general public understand the greenhouse effect. I suggest you read his comment, it is well worth your time.

“The greenhouse effect requires the understanding of two effects: first, the temperature of a heated object in a vacuum, and second, the adiabatic lapse rate in a convective atmosphere.” Nullius in Verba (11/30/10)

So let’s take a look at atmospheric soundings and adiabatic lapse rates!

Atmospheric Sounding Data

I have read about atmospheric structure and have a beginners sense for lapse rate, however, I learn by working with the data. So when Judith Curry at Climate Etc posted a link to the University of Wyoming atmospheric data page that lets users submit queries to get atmospheric profiles for specific locations and dates, I wanted to see how the data looks for myself.

After playing with the web page for a few minutes I could get my hands on up-to-date soundings for stations across Canada and the US.

Here’s my RClimate based plot of Washington DC area atmospheric temperature soundings that will be updated daily. Click Image To Enlarge


The plot shows the sounding data profile and calculated ambient lapse rate. I chose the Washington DC sounding station because it is the closest to me, do-it-yourself citizen climate scientists can select their own station to track  atmospheric changes for themselves.

Here’s the link to my  RClimate Script which has several features new to me:

  • Construct U of Wyoming web query based on Station ID and date
  • Retrieve and parse file to extract profile data
  • Plot temperature profile
  • Calculate ambient lapse rate

Users can download and change my script to retrieve data for any station and date desired.

One response to “Plotting Atmospheric Temperature Structure and Lapse Rate

  1. Pingback: Atmospheric Temperature Structure : 2 – Stratospheric Cooling | Climate Charts & Graphs

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