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Atmospheric Water

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 Circulations

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
Polar regions:
More radiation
loses than
near thereceives

Uneven heating of earth


equator 270 W/m2

Obliquely near the

poles at an average

Deficit EnergyTropical regions:

More radiation
receives than
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 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 30 0 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 poles
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,

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 hold.
Corresponding vapor pressure is called saturation vapor pressure, es

Measures of Water Vapor

Saturation Vapor Pressure, es
Saturation pressure,


237.3 T

es 611exp

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


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/cm 3)

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


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

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
Now combining p - e = d Rd T

= Rd / 0.622

p = [ d + v / 0.622 ] Rd T

e = v Rv 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


p v R T


Measures of Water Vapor


p v R T




0.622 d


0.622 d v



0.622 d v a

qv a

p 0.622 d v
0.622 e
p 0.378e

Ra Rd 1 0.608qv

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

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


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


Hydrostatic Pressure law: dp g



Water Vapor in a Static Atmospheric

Consider two levels, at elevation (1) and at (2)
Variation of air temperature with altitude

; lapse rate

T2 T1 z2 z1

Water Vapor in a Static Atmospheric

From (1)


Substituting in (2)







p RaT

Water Vapor in a Static Atmospheric


p RaT

Integrating on both sides between levels (1) and (2) in the atmosphere

p1 Ra T1


p2 p1

Water Vapor in a Static Atmospheric


Water Vapor in a Static Atmospheric

Mass of air in the element dz is

a A dz
Mass of water contained in the air is

qv a A dz
Total mass of precipitable water in the column between (1) and (2)



a A dz


For intervals of z, incremental mass of precipitable water

mp qv a A z