Steve Hayward, at Argowan School, asks :-
Do the upper layers of the atmosphere spin at the same rate as the earth or do they stay still?
Steve Wood, an atmospheric physicist with the National Institute for Water and Atmosphere at Lauder in Central Otago, who is currently wintering over in the Antarctic while studing gases at high altitudes, responded.
The simple answer is yes - the atmosphere does spin with the earth driven by friction with the earth's surface, especially large landmasses. However the atmosphere is far from a rigid body, it is a fluid being stirred from the bottom so it doesn't move exactly with the earth.
There are other forces at work on the atmosphere to affect its motion. An important one is caused by the absorption of the sun's radiation which causes more daytime heating in equatorial regions and in the summer hemisphere than elsewhere. There is also an effect caused by the fact that not all parts are moving at the same rate, the motion is faster near the earth's equator. This means that all sorts of motions on varying scales are set up in the atmosphere even though, on average, it is moving around with the earth. We're all familiar with those motions in the lower atmosphere because they are what cause our weather. In the middle and upper atmosphere these sorts of motions exist as well, including wave patterns and circulations on a planetary scale. Atmospheric physicists study the way in which these motions transport energy and matter.