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Atmospheric Circulation

Water Vapor and measures

Water vapor in a static

atmospheric column

Precipitable water
Atmospheric Water
Of the many processes occurring continuously, the processes of precipitation and
evaporation in which the atmosphere interacts with surface water are the most
important for hydrology

Much of the precipitation occurring over land is derived from moisture

evaporated from the oceans and transported long distances by Atmospheric

Basic driving forces of circulation:

Rotation of earth
Transfer of heat energy from the equator and the poles
Atmospheric Circulation
Constantly receives heat from Sun through radiation and emits back
through re-radiation

Uneven heating of earth regions: More
radiation loses than
Perpendicular near the
Deficit Energy Tropical regions:
equator 270 W/m2
More radiation
Obliquely near the receives than loses

poles at an average Surplus Energy

rate of 90 W/m2

Deficit Energy
Atmospheric Circulation
Latitudinal energy imbalance is maintained by huge transfers of heat
from the tropics to polar areas winds and oceans currents
Earth acts as vast heat engine
Atmospheric Circulation for non-rotating

Air would rise near the equator and

travel in the upper atmosphere
towards the poles, then cool,
descend into the lower atmosphere,
and return toward the equator

HADLEY Circulation
Temperature Zones
Temperate Zone:
Moderate temperature; Not
vertical rays (Except in some

Tropical Zone: High

temperature; Vertical rays of

Polar Zone: Low

temperature; Extremely
slanting rays
Observed Temperature Zones
Atmospheric Pressure Weight of a column of air extending vertically over
a given area
Force per unit area
Common units millibars, inches of mercury etc
No universally accepted formula to convert inches of mercury to millibar
At constant temperature (00C at latitude 450C)
1049 mb = 31 inch of Hg
1016 mb =30 inch of Hg
982 mb = 29 inch of Hg

Measured using barometers

Distribution of Pressure
Usually pressure is inversely related to temperature

However, with increasing elevation, pressure also falls, just like temperature

Distribution of pressure is highly


Partly as a result of the variations in

the distribution of temperature

Dynamic factor caused by the

rotation of the earth and the ascent
and descent of air
Distribution of Pressure
Under the thermal control, pressure tends to rise from equator to poles

Air in the equatorial regions is thrown away from the earth while in the
polar areas, it is pulled inward.

Equatorial area will have low pressure and the polar areas will have higher

Two belts of high pressure, one

over each polar region and one belt
of low pressure around the equator
are produced.
Distribution of Pressure
Air rising in the equatorial regions descends around 300 North and South
Two belts of high pressure on the subtropical regions of both

Due to the rotation of earth, air is

pulled inwards in the polar regions
causes a rarification of the
atmosphere in the sub-polar latitudes
Produces two belts of low
pressure centered around 600
North and South in both
Distribution of Pressure
A total of seven pressure

Equatorial low

Two belts of subtropical


Two belts of subpolar


Two belts of polar highs

Distribution of Pressure
Called as Planetary distribution of pressure
Assumes uniformity of surface conditions all over the earth

Mainly determined by TWO

factors :
Thermal factor
Dynamic factor
While equatorial belt of low
pressure and polar belts of high
pressure are mainly a result of the
thermal control, the subtropical
belts of high pressure and
subpolar belts of low pressure are
primarily a result of dynamic

Modifications in the Planetary Distribution

of Pressure
Influenced by the local variations of temperature and surface conditions
Two major modifications

I. Seasonal migration or swing

of pressure belts Shift in the
position of vertical rays of Sun
Pressure belts move slightly
northwards during summer
solstice and towards south during
winter solstice
Modifications in the Planetary Distribution
of Pressure
II. Differential heating of land and sea at any given latitude While
continents are centres of high temperature and low pressure during summer,
Oceans have a relatively higher pressure

Vice versa during winter

Consequently, pressure belts are divided
into alternating cells of high and low
pressure each centeres over a major
ocean or a continent
Interruption of pressure belts
More conspicuous in Northern
Hemisphere where land and ocean
distribution is more uneven
Planetary Winds
If earth were a non-rotating sphere, atmospheric circulation would be in
one-cell form
Air would rise in the equator and travel in the upper atmosphere towards the
poles, then cool, descend into the lower atmosphere and return toward the
Hadley Circulation

Rotation of earth from west to east

changes the circulation pattern
One cell circulation for a non-rotating
Planetary Winds
Planetary winds are permanent winds blowing in response to the planetary
distribution of pressure
Each of the belts of high pressure gives rise to winds that blow towards the
area of low pressure on both of its sides

Equatorial winds or Doldrums

In the equatorial trough of low pressure,
intense heating causes the air to rise
continuously in the form of convective cells.
This zone between 50N and 50S
Equatorial belt of variable winds or
Planetary Winds
Trade Winds
Zones roughly between 50N and 300N (50S
and 300S)

Caused by pressure gradients from the

subtropical highs and equatorial low

Northeast trades in NH and Southeast

trades in SH or Tropical easterlies
Planetary Winds
Zones roughly between 350N and 600N (350S and 600S)
Blows from subtropical high pressure centres towards the subpolar lows
Southwesterly in NH and Northwesterly in SH
Southwesterly in NH Disrupted due to
existence of continents and oceans
Reduces wind velocities
Northwesterly in SH No disruption by
continents Gains strength
Expressions roaring forties, furious
fifties and screaming sixties
Planetary Winds
Polar Easterlies
Artic and Antartic latitudes
Simplified concept Predominant easterlies (Actually radial winds in
polar regions)

Planetary Wind belts also shift due to

temperature and pressure belts shifting
Seasonal and Local Winds (Eg.
Monsoon winds)
Air Masses and Fronts
Air mass: Large body of air in which the horizontal and vertical
distribution of temperature, pressure and moisture is almost uniform.

An air mass develops when a body of air remains for a sufficiently long
period of time over an area of uniform surface conditions Source
regions so that the air attains uniformity in terms of temperature and

Example of source regions: Extensive water bodies

Air mass carry the characteristics of source regions

Affect & modify the climate of regions it visits

Classification of Air Masses
On the basis of temperature & moisture conditions

I. Temperature

Tropical (Warm) and Polar (Cold) air masses

II. Moisture conditions

Continental (Dry) and Maritime (Humid) air masses

Classification of Air Masses

Source Regions of Global Air Masses

First letter moisture properties, c for continental air masses (dry) and m for
maritime air masses (moist).
Second letter thermal characteristic of its source region: T for Tropical, P for
Polar, A for arctic or Antarctic, E for Equatorial
When two air masses with contrasting thermal characteristics converge
Do not mix readily A boundary zone is produced

Zone of separation Fronts

Fronts are the zone in which one air mass is replacing other air mass

Cold air mass being denser tends to remain

in contact with the ground

Warm air mass has a tendency to rise up in

the front zone
Types of Fronts
Based on advancing air mass Warm and Cold fronts

Warm Front:
Warm air mass advances and replaces the cold air mass

Lighter warm air tends to

ride above the cold air

While the cold air may be

pushed back only to a small
extent, warm air spreads
over, to a greater extent

Very gentle sloping front

Cold Front:
Cold air replaces the warm air
Denser cold air being denser tends to stay near to the ground
Warm air is bodily uplifted
Cold air advance as a sharp wedge under the warm air
Due to the higher density
of the cold air, the cold
front advances at a rate
faster than the rate of
advace of warm front
Slope is much steeper
Stationary Front:
A front formed between two air masses and none of the two may be
advancing into the zone of other
Occluded Front:
Existing warm front between
warm air and cooler air mass
A cold air mass hit the warm air
mass from behind Cold front
Generally cold air mass move
more rapidly than warm air masses
Cold front may overtake warm
front from behind, lifting the warm
air mass off the ground
Cyclones & Anticyclones
System of very low pressure in the centre surrounded by increasing high
pressure outwards

In cyclone, wind blows in a circular pattern Anti-clockwise in NH and

Clockwise in SH

Tropical cyclones:
Due to intense heating up of air
causing very low pressure
Centre of the cyclone Eye
Also called as Hurricanes in West
Indies; Typhoons in China Sea;
Willy-Willies in Australia
Cyclones & Anticyclones
Temperate Cyclones
Due to the imperfect mixing of air masses with contrasting temperature
and humidity

Centres of high pressure with gentle
outward flow of air
Clockwise in NH and anti-clockwise in

Less impact on weather systems

Water Vapor
Fraction of water vapor in the atmosphere is very small

Largely responsible for prevailing weather conditions

Consider a closed container containing water and air.

Air is dry initially

Evaporation takes place and quantity of water

vapor in the air increases

A measurement of pressure in the air space will

reveal an increase in the air pressure as
evaporation proceeds
Partial pressure exerted by the vapor Vapor Pressure
Water Vapor
Evaporation continues until the vapor pressure of the overlying air equals
the surface vapor pressure

At this point, evaporation ceases

Air space is said to be saturated

Open container Equilibrium would not have

reached and all the water would eventually have

Eg. Atmosphere
Measures of Water Vapor
Vapor Pressure

Dew Point Temperature

Absolute Humidity

Specific Humidity

Relative Humidity
Measures of Water Vapor
Vapor Pressure
Daltons law of partial pressure

Pressure exerted by a gas is independent of the presence of other gases

Pressure exerted by the vapor on the air Vapor Pressure, e

Higher temperature More amount of water vapor in the air Increased

vapor pressure
For a given air temperature, there is a maximum moisture content the air can

Corresponding vapor pressure is called saturation vapor pressure, es

Measures of Water Vapor
Saturation Vapor Pressure, es

Saturation pressure, es = 611exp 17.27T
237.3+ T
where es is in Pa and T is in C.

Saturated vapor pressure vs Temperature Psychrometric curve

Psychrometric curve
Measures of Water Vapor
Gradient of the saturated vapour pressure curve

Differentiating eqn for es

d es 4098es
D= =
dT (237.3+ T )2

Point C has a vapor pressure ea and

the saturated vapor pressure is es

Vapor pressure deficit = es ea.

Evaporative capacity of air

Measures of Water Vapor
Dew point temperature, Td
Temperature to which air is to be cooled to make it saturated
Measures of Water Vapor
Absolute Humidity

Mass of water vapor contained in a unit volume of space (Unit: g/cm3)

Determined using equation of state for an ideal gas

Usual form of equation of state

pV = nRT

R = Universal gas constant

T = absolute temperature
Measures of Water Vapor
If M Mass of volume, V which has a gram molecular weight m, then the
number of gram molecules n contained in volume V


Usual form pV=nRT

Substituting value of n


By definition, density, = M / V

Therefore, p = R T / m Commonly used in meteorologic work

Measures of Water Vapor

Occasionally, R/m is called R Individual gas constant

Ideal gas law for water vapor

e = v Rv T

where T = absolute temperature in Kelvin

Rv = Gas constant for water vapor

Measures of Water Vapor
If the total pressure exerted by moist air is p , then the partial pressure

exerted by dry air is p e

Ideal gas law for dry air

p - e = d Rd T

where d = density of dry airabsolute temperature in Kelvin

Rd = Gas constant for dry air (287 J/kg.K)

Measures of Water Vapor
Density of moist air is the sum of the densities of dry air and
water vapor,

a = v + d
Ratio of molecular weight of water vapor to the average molecular weight of
dry air = 18.02 / 28.97 = 0.622

Gas constant for water vapor, Rv = Rd / 0.622

Now combining p - e = d Rd T & e = v Rv T

p = [ d + v / 0.622 ] Rd T
Measures of Water Vapor
Specific Humidity, qv

Mass of water vapor contained within a unit mass of moist space

Expresses as g/g or g/kg

qv = Ratio of densities of water vapor (v) and moist air (a)

qv = v / a

e rv RvT
p r + rv R T
d d
Measures of Water Vapor
e rv RvT =
rv Rd T
p r + rv R T rv
d d 0.622 rd + Rd T
0.622 0.622

rv rv ra
= =
0.622 rd + rv
0.622 ( 0.622 rd + rv ) ra

e qv ra
p ( 0.622 rd + rv )

0.622e e
qv = 0.622 Ra = Rd (1+ 0.608qv )
p - 0.378e p
Measures of Water Vapor

qv 0.622

Ra = Rd (1+ 0.608qv )
Ra increases with qv ; but even for a large qv the difference
between Ra and Rd ~ 2%

Ra Rd
Measures of Water Vapor
Relative Humidity, Rh

Rh =
- Ratio of actual vapor pressure to the saturated value at a given temperature
Water Vapor in a Static Atmospheric
Amount of moisture in an atmospheric column Precipitable water

Consider a column of atmosphere of area A. Consider an element of height

dz in the column

Two laws govern the properties of water vapor in a static


1. Ideal Gas law: p = a Ra T ------------------ (1)

2. Hydrostatic Pressure law: dp = -ra g(2)

Water Vapor in a Static Atmospheric
Consider two levels, at elevation (1) and at (2)

Variation of air temperature with altitude

= -a ;a =lapserate

T2 = T1 - a ( z2 -z1 )
Water Vapor in a Static Atmospheric
From (1) ra =

Substituting in (2) = - r a g
= -
dp g
=- dz
p RaT
dT dT
Now, = -a dz = -
dz a
dp g
= dT
p RaaT
Water Vapor in a Static Atmospheric
dp g
= dT
p RaaT
Integrating on both sides between levels (1) and (2) in the atmosphere

p2 g T2
ln = ln
p1 Raa T1
T2 Raa
p2 = p1
Water Vapor in a Static Atmospheric
Water Vapor in a Static Atmospheric
Mass of air in the element dz is

ra Adz
Mass of water contained in the air is
qv ra Adz
Total mass of precipitable water in the column between (1) and (2)
m p = qv ra Adz

For intervals of z, incremental mass of precipitable water

Dmp =qv ra ADz