The states of thermal equilibrium (incorporating an adjustment of super-adiabatic stratification) as well as that of pure radiative equilibrium of the atmosphere are computed as the asymptotic steady state approached in an initial value problem. Recent measurements of absorptivities obtained for a wide range of pressure are used, and the scheme of computation is sufficiently general to include the effect of several layers of clouds.

The atmosphere in thermal equilibrium has an isothermal lower stratosphere and an inversion in the upper stratosphere which are features observed in middle latitudes. The role of various gaseous absorbers (i.e., water vapor, carbon dioxide, and ozone), as well as the role of the clouds, is investigated by computing thermal equilibrium with and without one or two of these elements. The existence of ozone has very little effect on the equilibrium temperature of the earth's surface but a very important effect on the temperature throughout the stratosphere; the absorption of solar radiation by ozone in the upper and middle stratosphere, in addition to maintaining the warm temperature in that region, appears also to be necessary for the maintenance of the isothermal layer or slight inversion just above the tropopause. The thermal equilibrium state in the absence of solar insulation is computed by setting the temperature of the earth's surface at the observed polar value. In this case, the stratospheric temperature decreases monotonically with increasing altitude, whereas the corresponding state of pure radiative equilibrium has an inversion just above the level of the tropopause.

A series of thermal equilibriums is computed for the distributions of absorbers typical of different latitudes. According to these results, the latitudinal variation of the distributions of ozone and water vapor may be partly responsible for the latitudinal variation of the thickness of the isothermal part of the stratosphere. Finally, the state of local radiative equilibrium of the stratosphere overlying a troposphere with the observed distribution of temperature is computed for each season and latitude. In the upper stratosphere of the winter hemisphere, a large latitudinal temperature gradient appears at the latitude of the polar-night jet stream, while in the upper statosphere of the summer hemisphere, the equilibrium temperature varies little with latitude. These features are consistent with the observed atmosphere. However, the computations predict an extremely cold polar night temperature in the upper stratosphere and a latitudinal decrease (toward the cold pole) of equilibrium temperature in the middle or lower stratosphere for winter and fall. This disagrees with observation, and suggests that explicit introduction of the dynamics of large scale motion is necessary.

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