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One mechanism is conduction of heat into a colder underlying surface. For example, on a
clear night, the ground may emit (longwave infrared) radiation much faster than it
absorbs radiation emitted downward by the atmosphere and may therefore cool rapidly. If
the ground temperature drops below the temperature of the air, then heat will conduct out
of a layer of air next to the ground, cooling it. If it cools below its dew point and water
vapor condenses, the result is a ground-hugging cloud that we call radiation fog. his is
the !ind of fog that can occupy the "entral #alley of "alifornia and smaller inland valleys
for days at a time during the winter, for example.
$lternatively, air that moves from one place to another may move across a surface colder
than itself, and begin losing heat by conduction into that colder underlying surface. For
example, air moving eastward from the %acific Ocean moves across a strip of water off of
the "alifornia coast perhaps &' to ('' miles wide that is considerably colder than the
water of the open ocean (due to upwelling along the coast). he air in contact with the
colder coastal water promptly loses heat by conduction and may cool below its dew
point, causing water vapor to condense in it and producing another surface-hugging cloud
that we call advection fog. his is the !ind of fog that blan!ets )an Francisco much of the
summer, for example.
Adiabatic Cooling / Warming
$ more important mechanism by which air can cool below its dew point is called
adiabatic cooling. *hen the
pressure exerted on a parcel of air
decreases (as happens, for
example, when air rises), the
parcel will expand. o expand, a
parcel must push surrounding air
out of the way. o push
surrounding air out of the way
re+uires energy, and the only form
of energy available to the parcel is
its own heat. ,ence, when rising
air expands as the pressure on it
drops, it uses up heat energy to
push away surrounding air to ma!e
room for its own expansion, and so
its temperature drops. he parcel
does not exchange heat with its
environment by any mechanism
during this process, even though
the parcel cools.
-ising, unsaturated air that cools adiabatically li!e this will cool by about &.& degrees F
for every (''' ft. that it rises, or about (' degrees " for every !ilometer it rises.
$diabatic cooling in rising air is the primary mechanism by which most clouds form.
he converse of adiabatic cooling is adiabatic warming. *hen air sin!s, the pressure on it
increases and compresses it. he energy used by surrounding air to compress a sin!ing
parcel is converted to heat in the parcel, and the parcel.s temperature rises (by &.& degrees
F for every (''' ft. it sin!s, or (' degrees " for each !ilometer it sin!s). Of course, air
that warms becomes capable of holding more water vapor, so clouds cannot form in
sin!ing air, and any li+uid water present in the air (as cloud droplets) would begin to
evaporate. ,ence, clouds are suppressed in sin!ing air.
he phenomenon of adiabatic warming and cooling is the reason why meteorologists are
so interested in where to expect air to rise or sin!. "louds (and possible precipitation)
tend to form in rising air/ clouds (and hence precipitation) are suppressed in sin!ing air.