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INVERSION LAYERS

A surface inversion layer is a layer within the first 1500m of the atmosphere. It occurs when a air within a high pressure descends and as it descends, it warms the atmosphere, much like a bicycle pump warms up when you pump up a wheel. When air is compressed it will warm up. As the air descends from heights of about 12km it will warm and the warmest air will be found at this inversion layer which can be several meters thick. The air temperature then cools towards the surface.

So if one had to move from the surface of the earth when an inversion was present, you would notice that the air warms as you ascend and it will become warmer until you reach the inversion layer when it will start cooling again.

Inversion conditions usually suppress any convective development and usually very stable conditions occur with inversion conditions. Inversion layers occur throughout summer over CT. They also occur in winter on fine cold mornings when most of the smog is trapped within the lowest 200m above the ground.

The photograph below was taken by myself on Sunday 3 November 1985 in Constantia, Cape Town looking towards the NE at around 15:30. Large convective cumulonimbus clouds had built up during the day over the Boland mountains, but were severely restricted in their upwards growth by a very strong inversion, probably at about 2000m. This can be clearly seen from the very flat tops of the two massive clouds.

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