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Teaching Weather and Climate Summer 2012 Buoyancy and Vertical Motion

What is Air Temperature?

Temperature, Buoyancy, •  Temperature is a measure of the kinetic energy
and Vertical Motion (speed) of air molecules as they bounce around

•  High temperature air is made of fast molecules that

Temperature, Pressure, and Density deliver a lot of energy when they hit something

Buoyancy and Static Stability •  Cold air is made of slower molecules that hit things
Temperature “Lapse Rates” less often and deliver a weaker wallop when they do

Rising & Falling Motions in the Air •  The sensation of warmth is created by air molecules
striking and bouncing off your skin surface

Temperature How
Scales Atmospehric
Temperature is
•  In the US, we use
Fahrenheit most Measured
Helium-filled weather
•  Celsius (centigrade) balloons are released from
is a scale based on over 1000 locations around the
freezing/boiling of world every 12 hours
water (some places more often)

•  Kelvin is the These document temperature,

“absolute” pressure, humidity, and winds
temperature scale aloft

Scott Denning CSU CMMAP 1

Teaching Weather and Climate Summer 2012 Buoyancy and Vertical Motion

Pressure Density (mass/volume)

•  Same number of Sample 1
•  Pressure is defined as a molecules and mass
force applied per unit area
•  Sample 1 takes up
•  The weight of air is a force, more space
equal to the mass m times the Sample 2
acceleration due to gravity g
•  Sample 2 takes up
•  Air pressure results from the less space
weight of the entire overlying
column of air! •  Sample 2 is more
dense than sample 1

Density is the Key

Pressure and Density
to Buoyancy!
•  Gravity holds most
of the air close to Changes in density drive vertical motion
the ground in the atmosphere and ocean.
•  The weight of the
overlying air is the •  Less dense air rises when it is
pressure at any surrounded by denser air.
-Think of a hollow plastic ball submerged under
water. What happens when you release it?

The ball is less dense than the water around it …

Scott Denning CSU CMMAP 2

Teaching Weather and Climate Summer 2012 Buoyancy and Vertical Motion

Buoyancy and Temperature Trading Height for Heat

Hot air has fast-moving molecules that spread We can think of two kinds of energy in the air:
out and occupy more space (volume) … so it is •  potential energy (due to its height)
less dense!
•  internal energy (due to the motions of the
Cold air has slow-moving molecules that pack molecules that make it up)
more closely together and take up less space …
so it is more dense
•  Air can trade one kind of energy for the
An air parcel rises in the atmosphere when its other, but conserves the overall total
density is less than its surroundings
So air that is warmer than its surroundings When air rises, it gains height but loses
rises, and air that is colder than its heat (cools) … when it sinks it loses
surroundings sinks height but gains heat (warms)

Temperature, Density, and

Hot Air Ballooning
•  Contain some air in
the balloon
•  Add some serious
heat energy!
•  Air expands and
rises (some gets
out the bottom)
Heating of the Earth’s surface during
•  Balloon accelerates
daytime causes the air to vertically mix

Scott Denning CSU CMMAP 3

Teaching Weather and Climate Summer 2012 Buoyancy and Vertical Motion

“Lapse Rate” Dry Lapse Rate

•  The lapse rate is the change of temperature
with height in the atmosphere

•  Environmental Lapse Rate

–  The actual vertical profile of temperature
(as measured on a tower or airplane or balloon)

•  Dry Lapse Rate

–  The change of temperature that an air parcel would
experience if it were displaced vertically with no
condensation or heat exchange 10 degrees C per kilometer
Warming and Cooling due to changing pressure

•  Fort Collins is 5000 Hiking Long’s Stability & Instability

feet above sea level Peak
•  Longs Peak is 14255
feet above sea level
•  Climbing 9255 feet
is almost 3000 m
•  Dry lapse rate 10
°C / km, so should be
30 °C colder (=54 F) A rock, like a parcel of air, that is in stable equilibrium
will return to its original position when pushed.
•  Suppose it’s 95 °F in
FC today, 95 – 54 = A rock or parcel of air in unstable equilibrium will rush
away from its initial position when pushed a little
41 °F on Long’s!

Scott Denning CSU CMMAP 4

Teaching Weather and Climate Summer 2012 Buoyancy and Vertical Motion

Stability in the atmosphere Why is stability important?

Vertical motions in the atmosphere are a critical part
of energy transport and strongly influence the
hydrologic cycle

•  Without vertical motion, there would be no

precipitation, no mixing of pollutants away from
ground level - weather would be totally boring!

•  There are two types of vertical motion:

Stable Unstable Neutral
An Initial –  forced motion such as forcing air up over a hill,
over colder air, or from horizontal convergence
If an air parcel is displaced from its original height it can:
–  buoyant motion in which the air rises because it
Return to its original height - Stable is less dense than its surroundings
Accelerate upward because it is buoyant - Unstable
Stay at the place to which it was displaced - Neutral

Vertical Motion and Temperature Stability and the

Dry Lapse Rate
Rising air expands,
using energy to •  A rising air parcel cools according to the
push outward dry lapse rate (10 C per km)
against its
cooling the air •  If rising, cooling air is:

Air may be forced –  warmer than surrounding air it is less

to rise or sink, and dense and buoyancy accelerates the
change its parcel upward … UNSTABLE!
relative to the air
–  colder than surrounding air it is more
around it
dense and buoyancy opposes (slows) the
rising motion … STABLE!

Scott Denning CSU CMMAP 5

Teaching Weather and Climate Summer 2012 Buoyancy and Vertical Motion

Unstable •  The atmosphere is unstable if What conditions

the actual lapse rate exceeds
the dry lapse rate
make the air unstable?
(air cools more than 10 C/km)
•  Warming of surface air
•  This situation is rare in nature –  Solar heating of ground
(not long-lived) –  Warm “advection” near surface
–  Air moving over a warm surface
–  Usually results from (e.g., a warm body of water)
surface heating and is
confined to a shallow layer
near the surface •  Cooling of air aloft
–  Cold “advection” aloft (thunder-snow!)
–  Vertical mixing eliminates it –  Radiative cooling of air/clouds aloft
•  Mixing results in a dry lapse
rate in the mixed layer, unless
condensation (cloud formation)

•  The atmosphere is stable if

Stable What conditions
the actual lapse rate is less
than the dry lapse rate
Atmosphere make the air stable?
(air cools less than 10 C/
•  Radiative cooling of surface at night
•  This situation is common in
nature (happens most calm •  Advection of cold air near the surface
nights, esp in winter)
–  Usually results from •  Air moving over a cold surface
surface cooling and is (e.g., snowy ground, cold water, ice,)
confined to a shallow
layer near the surface •  Warming of the air due to compression
–  Vertical mixing or from subsidence (sinking)
surface heating
eliminates it

Scott Denning CSU CMMAP 6

Teaching Weather and Climate Summer 2012 Buoyancy and Vertical Motion

Air Stability and Pollution Stability and Clouds

•  Stable air (cold
•  When air is
surface, warm
stable (cold near
aloft) resists Flat (stratus) clouds
ground), pollution
vertical motion
pools like water
(cough cough)

•  Unstable air •  Unstable air

(warm surface,
(warm near
cold aloft)
surface) mixes Puffy (cumulus) clouds
pollution up up amplifies
and away vertical motion

Stability and Turbulence Vertical Motion and Weather

•  Daytime •  Sinking motion
heating of the warms and dries
ground by the the air, produces
sun produces sunny weather
•  Rising motion
•  Strong vertical usually required
motion near for clouds, rain,
ground is and snow

Scott Denning CSU CMMAP 7