Tuesday Sept. 28, 2010

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Tuesday Sept. 28, 2010

The music before class today was from Brandi Carlile ("My Song", "Late Morning Lullaby", and "The Story" all from her The Story CD)

I'll try to have the Expt. #1 reports graded by Thursday.  You'll then have ~2 weeks to revise your report.

The 1S1P reports that you're turning in today will be graded by ??? (the end of the semester for sure).  Actually we'll try to have them graded and returned to you before the next report(s) are due.

Due next Tuesday, a Bonus 1S1P Assignment that you will hear about in class today.

Coming on Thursday, a new Optional Assignment (that will be due next Thu. - Oct. 6).


An ambitious schedule for today (order of presentation subject to change)
1. Weather changes associated with the approach and passage of cold and warm fronts
2. Locating fronts on surface weather maps
3. Deadly dangers associated with the Fall Equinox (might move to last place)
4. Introduction to energy and energy transport
5. Relationship between energy added to a material and the temperature change that results
6. An in-class measurement of the latent heat of vaporization of liquid nitrogen

We didn't have time for the in-class experiment, we'll do that on Thursday.


Here's a little material that we didn't cover in class.  I insert it only because we covered it quickly in the MWF section and may have occasion to refer to air masses by their different names.

An air mass acquires its characteristics by remaining over a fairly homogeneous surface (soil, ocean water, ice or snow) for some time it will take on the characteristics of the surface.  Air masses are classified and named according to their moisture and temperature properties.

Continental polar air masses are cold and dry (the coldest, driest, and densest of the 4 air masses).  Martime polar air masses are somewhat warmer (ocean water doesn't get as cold as land masses) and are moister than cP air masses (though not as moist as mT air masses).  Continental polar air masses are warm and relatively dry though usually not as dry as cP air masses.  Martime tropical air masses are the moistest air masses and can potentially produce the greatest amounts of precipitation.

This next picture shows where these different types of air masses originate.

We spent a big part of the class today learning about some of the weather conditions that precede and follow passage of warm and cold fronts. 

A crossectional view of a cold front is shown below:

Here are some of the specific weather changes

Weather variable





cool, cold, colder*


Dew Point

usually much drier*

may be moist (though that is often
not the case here in the desert southwest)



gusty winds (dusty)

from the southwest

Clouds, Weather


rain clouds, thunderstorms in
narrow band along the front
(if the warm air mass is moist)

might see some high clouds



reaches a minimum


* the coldest air might follow passage of a cold front by a day or two.  Nighttime temperatures often plummet in the cold dry air behind a cold front.  *Note the green (cool), blue (cold), purple (colder) sequence in the picture above behind the cold front.

A temperature drop is probably the most obvious change associated with a cold front.  Here in southern Arizona, gusty winds and a wind shift are also often noticeable when a cold front passes.

The pressure changes that precede and follow a cold front are not something we would observe or feel but are very useful when trying to locate a front on a weather map.

In the next figure we started with some weather data plotted on a surface map using the station model notation. 

Before trying to locate a cold front, we needed to draw in a few isobars and map out the pressure pattern.  In some respects fronts are like spokes on a wheel - they rotate counterclockwise around centers of low pressure.  It makes sense to first determine the location of the low pressure center.

Isobars are drawn at 4 mb increments above and below a starting value of 1000 mb.  Some of the allowed values are shown on the right side of the figure (992, 996, 1000, 1004, 1008 etc).  The highest pressure on the map is 1003.0 mb, the lowest is 994.9 mb.  You must choose from the allowed list of isobar values and pick only the values that fall between the high and low pressure values on the map.  Thus we have drawn in  996 mb and 1000 mb isobars.

The next step was to try to locate the warm air mass in the picture.  Temperatures are in the 60s in the lower right portion of the map; this area has been circled in red.

The cold front on the map seems to be properly postioned.  The air ahead of the front is warm, moist, has winds blowing from the S or SW, and the pressure is falling.  These are all things you would expect to find ahead of a cold front.  Clouds and a rain shower were located right near the front which is typically where they are found.  The air behind the front is colder, drier, winds are blowing from the NW, and the pressure is falling.  Note how the cold front is positioned at the leading edge of the cold air mass, not necessarily in front of the coldest air in the cold air mass.

Next we went through the same procedure with warm fronts.

Here's the crossectional view

Here ae the weather changes in advance of and following the frontal passage.

Weather Variable

Behind (after)


Ahead (before)




Dew point

may be moister



from S or SW

from E or SE

Clouds, Weather


wide variety of clouds well ahead of the front,
may be a wide variety of types of precipitation also.





And here is the surface map analysis:

Note the extensive cloud coverage and precipitation found ahead of the warm front.  There is a pretty good temperature and dew point difference on opposite sides of the warm front and a clear shift in wind directions.  Pressure is falling ahead of the warm front and rising behind.

There was also pretty clear evidence of a cold front on this map.

The new Bonus 1S1P Assignment will give you a chance to draw in some isobars and locate a cold and warm front on your own.  This Surface Weather Map Analysis is due next Tuesday, Oct. 5.

For the next couple of weeks we will be concerned with energy, temperature, heat, energy transport, and energy balance between the earth, atmosphere, and space.

It is easy to lose sight of the main concepts because there are so many details.  The following (found on pps 43&44 in the photocopied Class Notes) is meant to introduce some of what we will be covering in class.  (the figures that follow are from a previous semester and may differ somewhat from what we did in class)

Types of energy
We will learn the names of several different types or forms of energy. Kinetic energy is energy of motion. Some examples (both large and microscopic scale) are mentioned and sketched above.  This is a relatively easy to visualize and understand form of energy.

Latent heat energy is perhaps the most underappreciated and most confusing type of energy. The word latent refers to energy that is hidden in water and water vapor.  The hidden energy emerges when water vapor condenses or water freezes.

Radiant energy is a very important form of energy that was for some reason left off the original list.  Sunlight is an example of radiant energy that we can see and feel (you feel warm when you stand in sunlight).  There are many types of radiant energy that are invisible.  Electromagnetic radiation is another name for radiant energy.

Water vapor is a particularly important form of invisible energy.  When water vapor condenses to produce the water droplets (or ice crystals) in a cloud, an enormous amount of latent heat energy is released into the atmosphere. 

It is hard to visualize or appreciate the amount of energy released into the atmosphere during condensation.  You can imagine the work that you would do carrying a gallon of water (8 pounds) from Tucson to the top of Mt. Lemmon.  To accomplish the same thing Mother Nature must first evaporate the water and (if my calculations are correct) that requires about 100 times the energy that you would use to carry the 8 pounds of water to the summit of Mt. Lemmon.  And Mother Nature transports a lot more than just a single gallon.

Energy transport
Four energy transport processes are listed below.

By far the most important process is energy transport in the form of electromagnetic radiation (light is a common form of electromagnetic radiation).  This is the only process that can transport energy through empty space.  Electromagnetic radiation travels both to the earth (from the sun) and away from the earth into space.  Electromagnetic radiation is also responsible for about 80% of the energy transported between the ground and atmosphere.

You might be surprised to learn that latent heat is the second most important transport process.

Rising parcels of warm air and sinking parcels of cold air are examples of free convection.  Because of convection you feel colder or a cold windy day than on a cold calm day.  Ocean currents are also an example of convection.  Ocean currents transport energy from the warm tropics to colder polar regions.

Remember that convection is one of the ways of causing rising air motions in the atmosphere (convergence into centers of low pressure, fronts, and orographic or topographic lifting were the other ways). 

Conduction is the least important energy transport at least in the atmosphere.  Air is such a poor conductor of energy that it is generally considered to be an insulator.
Energy balance and the atmospheric greenhouse effect
The next picture (the figure drawn in class has been split into three parts for improved clarity) shows energy being transported from the sun to the earth in the form of electromagnetic radiation.

We are aware of this energy because we can see it (sunlight also contains invisible forms of light) and feel it.  With all of this energy arriving at and being absorbed by the earth, what keeps the earth from getting hotter and hotter?  The answer is that the earth also sends energy back into space (the orange and pink arrows in the figure below)

This infrared light is an invisible form of energy (it is weak enough that we don't usually feel it either).  A balance between incoming and outgoing energy is achieved and the earth's annual average temperature remains constant.

We will also look closely at energy transport between the earth's surface and the atmosphere. This is where latent heat energy transport and convection and conduction operate (they can't outside the atmosphere into outer space).

That is also where the atmospheric greenhouse operates.  That will be a important goal - to better understand how the atmospheric greenhouse effect works.

The greenhouse effect is getting a lot of "bad press".  If the earth's atmosphere didn't contain greenhouse gases and if there weren't a greenhouse effect, the global annual average surface temperature would be about 0 F (scratch out -4 F and put 0 F, it's easier to remember).  With greenhouse gases this average is about 60 F.  This is the beneficial part of the greenhouse effect.

The detrimental side is that atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations are increasing.  This might enhance the greenhouse effect and cause the earth to warm.  While that doesn't necessarily sound bad it could have many unpleasant side effects.  That's a subject while explore briefly later in the semester.

Now we start to get into some of the details.

When you add energy to an object, the object will usually warm up (conversely when you take energy from an object the object will cool).  It is relatively easy to come up with an equation that allows you to figure out what the temperature change will be.

The temperature change will first depend on how much energy was added.  This is a direct proportionality, so delta E is in the numerator of the equation (delta E and delta T are both positive when energy is added, negative when energy is taken from something)

When you add equal amounts of energy to large and small  pans of water, the small pan will heat up more quickly.  The temperature change, delta T, will depend on the amount of water, the mass.  A small mass will mean a large delta T, so mass should go in the denominator of the equation.  

Different materials react differently when energy is added to them.  A material with a large specific heat will warm more slowly than a material with a small specific heat.  Specific heat has the same kind of effect on delta T as mass.  Specific heat is sometimes called "thermal mass" or "thermal capacity."

Here's an important example that will show the effect of specific heat (middle of p. 45)

Equal amounts of energy (1000 calories, note that calories are units of energy) are added to equal masses (500 grams) of water and soil.  We use water and soil in the example because most of the earth's surface is either ocean or land. Water has a higher specific heat than soil, it only warms up 2o C.  The soil has a lower specific heat and warms up 10o C, 5 times more than the water (there is a factor of 5 difference in the specific heats of water and soil).

These different rates of warming of water and soil have important effects on regional climate.

Oceans moderate the climate.  Cities near a large body of water won't warm as much in the summer and won't cool as much during the winter compared to a city that is surrounded by land.

The yearly high and low monthly average temperatures are shown at two locations above.  The city on the coast has a 30o F annual range of temperature (range is the difference between the summer and winter temperatures).  The city further inland (assumed to be at the same latitude and altitude) has an annual range of 60o F.  Note that both cities have the same 60o F annual average temperature.  We'll see a much more dramatic example of the moderating effect of water on climate in a couple of weeks.

Here's another situation where you can take advantage of water's high specific heat to moderate "micro climate."

Here are some tomatoes being planted in early February in my vegetable garden a winter or two ago.  It still gets plenty cold enough at night in February to kill tomatoes (the brocolli and lettuce in the background can handle a light frost) so you have to protect them.

Here's one way of doing that.  You can surround each plant with a "wall of water"  -  a tent like arrangement that surrounds each plant.  The cylinders are filled with water and they take advantage of the high specific heat of water and won't cool as much as the air or soil would during a cold night.

Adding energy to an object will usually cause it to warm.  But there is another possibility (bottom p. 45),  the object could change phase (change from solid to liquid or gas).  Adding energy to ice might cause the ice to melt.  Adding energy to water could cause it to evaporate.  The figure below is a little more detailed version of what was drawn in class.

The equation at the bottom of the figure above allows you to calculate how much energy is required to melt ice or evaporate water or sublimate dry ice.  You multiply the mass by the latent heat, a variable that depends on the particular material that is changing phase. 

The fall (autumnal) equinox was on Wednesday (Thursday in some locations) last week.

We would have had some kind of a celebration in NATS 101 if it hadn't been quiz day.

The figure above shows the earth orbiting the sun.  On or around Dec. 21st, the winter solstice, the north pole is tilted away from the sun.  Days are less than 12 hours long in the northern hemisphere and the sun is low in the sky.  Both factors reduce the amount of sunlight energy reaching the ground.  On June 21st, the summer solstice, the north pole is tilted toward the sun.  Days are more than 12 hours long in the northern hemisphere and the sun is high in the sky at noon.  A lot more sunlight energy reaches the ground; that's why it is summer.

The equinoxes are a time of transition.  On the equinoxes, the day and night are each 12 hours long everywhere on earth (except perhaps at the poles).  On the equinoxes, the sun rises exactly in the east and sets exactly in the west.  The picture below shows the position of the sun at sunrise (around 6:30 am on the spring and fall equinox in Tucson).

The figure at left traces out the path will follow in the sky on the equinox.  The sun rises in the east, moves to the southern sky and begins to get higher in the sky

At noon you need to look about 60 degrees above the southern horizon to see the sun.  The sun is only 34.5 degrees above the southern horizon on the winter solstice in Tucson and is 81.5 degrees above the horizon, nearly overhead, at noon on the summer solstice.

On the equinoxes the sun sets exactly in the west at about 6:30 pm.

The figure below shows you about what you would see if you looked west on Speedway (from Treat Ave.) at sunset.  In the winter the sun will set south of west, in the summer north of west (probably further south and north than shown here).  On the equinoxes the sun sets exactly in the west.

Several years ago I positioned myself in the median near the intersecton of Treat and Speedway and pointed my camera west.  I took a multiple exposure photograph of the sun over a 2 hour period that ended at sunset.  I'll try to bring the slide photograph to class one of these days.

If you aren't careful, you can get yourself seriously injured, even killed, on or around the equinoxes. 

I didn't have time to show the following figure in class.

June 21, the summer solstice, is the longest day of the year (about 14 hours of daylight in Tucson).  The days have slowly been getting shorter since then. This will continue up until December 21, the winter solstice, when there will be about 10 hours of daylight.  After that the days will start to lengthen as we make our way back to the summer solstice.

The length of the day changes most rapidly on the equinoxes.

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