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THE ATMOSPHERE

Weather the state of the atmosphere at a given time and place (short-term)
Climate average weather condition of a place (long-term)

Weather and Climate are sensitive indicators of changes in the Earth System.

Weather and climate are affected by changes in the geosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere,
atmosphere

Atmosphere

A.

Outermost envelope of gas and suspended solids extending from the Earth's surface out many
thousands of miles, becoming increasingly thinner with distance but always held by the Earth's
gravitational pull

Made up of layers, surrounds the Earth and holds the air we breathe; it protects us from outer
space; and holds moisture (clouds), gases, and tiny particles

Made up primarily of Nitrogen (75-78%), Oxygen (20-21%), Argon (0.89-0.93%, carbon dioxide
(~0.036%) and water vapor (0-4%)

The six variables used to determine the state of the atmosphere are: a) Temperature, b) Air
pressure, c) Humidity, d) Cloudiness, e) Type and amount of precipitation, and f) Wind speed
and direction. These are also referred to as the basic elements of weather.

Two things energize the atmosphere: The Suns heat and the Earths rotation

Heating and Atmosphere


1.

Solar Radiation
The Sun emits electromagnetic radiation
When any form of radiation is absorbed by an object, the result is an increase in temperature
Basic laws governing radiation

2.

What happens to incoming radiation?


Scattering, reflecting, absorbing
30% reflected/scattered (albedo), 20% absorbed by clouds, 50% absorbed by Earths surface
Factors increasing albedo would decrease the amount of energy available to heat the Earth
o

Cloud cover

3.

Nature of surface

Angle of Suns rays

The Greenhouse Effect


Because gases are selective absorbers, the atmosphere transmits most incoming solar
radiation to Earths surface, where it is absorbed. Air is heated when water vapor and carbon
dioxide absorb the longer wavelength radiation emitted by Earth.

4.

Thermal Structure of the Atmosphere

Atmosphere layer

Thermal Structure (draw the structure)

Thermosphere

Notes

Air temperature rises because of


absorption of very shortwave, high
energy solar radiation of single
atoms of O and N

Mesopause

Mesosphere

Air temperature drops to its lowest


value

Stratopause

Stratosphere

O3 absorbs UV, warms air

Tropopause

Troposphere

Vertical mixing of air, weather, heat


from Earths radiation

B. Moisture and Cloud Formation


1.

Changes of State
Water vapor is the most important gas when it comes to understanding atmospheric
processes
Changes state, unlike other gases
Latent heat = the heat absorbed or released during a change of state
Latent heat released during condensation is an important source of energy for violent
thunderstorms, tornadoes, and hurricanes

2.

Humidity
Amount of water vapor in the air
Expressed as follows:
o

Mixing ratio quantity of water vapor contained in a specific amount of air

Relative humidity ratio of the airs actual water vapor content (mixing ratio) to its
potential water vapor capacity (saturation point) at a given temperature

3.

Dew point temperature temperature at which air would need to be cooled to reach
saturation

Cloud Formation
Clouds form when air is cooled below its dew point
Temperature changes that occur without the addition or subtraction of heat are called
adiabatic temperature changes
Dry adiabatic rate of cooling = 10 C / 1000 m
Above the condensation level, latent heat of condensation stored in the water vapor will be
liberated, reducing the rate of adiabatic cooling
Wet adiabatic rate of cooling = 5-9 C / 1000 m
Under average atmospheric conditions, air resists vertical movement.
Mechanisms that force air to rise:
o

Orographic lifting

Frontal wedging

Convergence

Localized convective lifting

C. Air Pressure and Wind


1.

Measuring Air Pressure


The air pressure at a particular place is simply the force exerted by the weight of air above
Air pressure is directly related to air density
Because air density decreases with altitude and colder air is more dense than warm air, air
pressure decreases with altitude but increases with decreasing temperature
Surface air pressure increases with convergence of air aloft causing subsidence

2.

Factors Affecting Wind


Pressure-gradient force creates wind, dictates speed
Coriolis force deflects wind but does not affect speed; affected by wind speed (stronger
deflection with stronger wind); directed at right angles to the direction of airflow

Friction important only within the first few km of Earths surface; acts to slow wind speed,
thus reducing the Coriolis force
3.

Highs and Lows


Low / Cyclone converging surface winds and ascending air cause adiabatic cooling leading
to condensation, formation of clouds and eventual precipitation (associated with bad
weather)

High / Anticyclone diverging surface winds and subsiding air cause compression and
warming making cloud formation unlikely (associated with the clear blue skies of a fair
weather)