Figure 11.10 The density and pressure of the layers of the atmosphere decrease as altitude increases.

Altitude Increases Pressure Decreases

Pressure Density (mb) (kg/m3)









Temperature increases Density constant

Pressure lower y t Temperature incre

Density higher

Pressure higher

Air mass

s I / Density lower

Figure 11.11 Temperature, pressure, and density are all related to one another. If temperature increases, but density is constant, the pressure increases. If the temperature increases and the pressure is constant, the density decreases.

Pressure-temperature-density relationship In the atmosphere, the temperature, pressure, and density of air are related to each other, as shown in Figure 11.11. Imagine a sealed container containing only air. The pressure exerted by the air inside the container is related to the air temperature inside the container and the air density. How does the pressure change if the air temperature or density changes?

Air pressure and temperature The pressure exerted by the air in the container is due to the collisions of the gas particles in the air with the sides of the container. When these particles move faster due to an increase in temperature, they exert a greater force when they collide with the sides of the container. The air pressure inside the container increases. This means that for air with the same density, warmer air is at a higher pressure than cooler air.

Air pressure and density Imagine that the temperature of the air does not change, but that more air is pumped into the container. Now there are more gas particles in the container, and therefore, the mass of the air in the container has increased. Because the volume has not changed, the density of the air has increased. Now there are more gas particles colliding with the walls of the container, and so more force is being exerted by the particles on the walls. This means that at the same temperature, air with a higher density exerts more pressure than air with a lower density.

Temperature and density Heating a balloon causes the air inside to move faster, causing the balloon to expand and increase in volume. As a result, the air density inside the balloon decreases. The same is true for air masses in the atmosphere. At the same pressure, warmer air is less dense than cooler air.


Academic vocabulary

Exert to put forth (as strength)

Susan exerted a lot of energy playing basketball

Section 2 • Properties of the Atmosphere 291

Temperature Trends

Increasing altitude

Cold air

Warm air

Warm air

Cold air

Ground level

Temperature in Temperature the troposphere inversion in the troposphere

Figure 11.12 In a temperature inversion, the warm air is located on top of the cooler air.

Temperature inversion In the troposphere, air temperature decreases as height increases. However, sometimes over a localized region in the troposphere, a temperature inversion can occur. A temperature inversion is an increase in temperature with height in an atmospheric layer. In other words, when a temperature inversion occurs, warmer air is on top of cooler air. This is called a temperature inversion because the temperature-altitude relationship is inverted, or turned upside down, as shown in Figure 11.12.

Causes of temperature inversion One example of a temperature inversion on the troposphere is the rapid cooling of land on a cold, clear, winter night when the air is calm. Under these conditions, the land does not radiate thermal energy to the lower layers of the atmosphere. As a result, the lower layers of air become cooler than the air above them, so that temperature increases with height and forms a temperature inversion.

Effects of temperature inversion If the sky is very hazy, there is probably an inversion somewhere in the lower atmosphere. A temperature inversion can lead to fog or low-level clouds. Fog is a significant factor in blocking visibility in many coastal cities, such as San Francisco. In some cities, such as the one shown in Figure 11.13, a temperature inversion can worsen air-pollution problems. The heated air rises as long as it is warmer than the air above it and then it stops rising, acting like a lid to trap pollution under the inversion layer. Pollutants are consequently unable to be lifted from Earth's surface. Temperature inversions that remain over an industrial area for a long time usually result in episodes of severe smog—a combination of smoke and fog—that can cause respiratory problems.

Figure 11.13 A temperature inversion in New York City traps air pollution above the city. Describe the effect of temperature inversion on air quality in metropolitan areas.

292 Chapter 11 • Atmosphere

J Silver/SuperStock

Wind Imagine you are entering a large, air-conditioned building on a hot summer day. As you open the door, you feel cool air rushing past you out of the building. This sudden rush of cool air occurs because the warm air outside the building is less dense and at a lower pressure than the cooler air inside the building. When the door opens, the difference in pressure causes the cool, dense air to rush out of the building. The movement of air is commonly known as wind.

Wind and pressure differences In the example above, the air in the building moves from a region of higher density to a region of lower density. In the lower atmosphere, air also generally moves from regions of higher density to regions of lower density. These density differences are produced by the unequal heating and cooling of different regions of Earth's surface. In the atmosphere, air pressure generally increases as density increases, so regions of high and low density are also regions of high and low air pressure respectively. As a result, air moves from a region of high pressure to a region of low pressure.

Wind speed and altitude Wind speed and direction change with height in the atmosphere. Near Earth's surface, wind is constantly slowed by the friction that results from contact with surfaces including trees, buildings, and hills, as shown Figure 11.14. Even the surface of water affects air motion. Higher up from Earth's surface, air encounters less friction and wind speeds increase. Wind speed is usually measured in miles per hour (mph) or kilometers per hour (km/h). Ships at sea usually measure wind in knots. One knot is equal to 1.85 km/h.

Wind Forested Area Coast

Figure 11.14 When wind blows over a forested area by a coast, it encounters more friction than when it blows over flatter terrain. This occurs because the wind encounters friction from the mountains, trees, and then the water, slowing the wind's speed.

Section 2 • Properties of the Atmosphere 293



The distribution and movement of water vapor in the atmosphere play an important role in determining the weather of any region. Humidity is the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere at a given location on Earth's surface. Two ways of expressing the water vapor content of the atmosphere are relative humidity and dew point.

Relative humidity Consider a flask containing water. Some water molecules evaporate, leaving the liquid and becoming part of the water vapor in the flask. At the same time, other water molecules condense, returning from the vapor to become part of the liquid. Just as the amount of water vapor in the flask might vary, so does the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere. Water on Earth's surface evaporates and enters the atmosphere and condenses to form clouds and precipitation.

In the example of the flask, if the rate of evaporation is greater than the rate of condensation, the amount of water vapor in the flask increases. Saturation occurs when the amount of water vapor in a volume of air has reached the maximum amount. Recall from Chapter 3 that a saturated solution cannot hold any more of the substance that is being added to it. When a volume of air is saturated, it cannot hold any more water.

The amount of water vapor in a volume of air relative to the amount of water vapor needed for that volume of air to reach saturation is called relative humidity. Relative humidity is expressed as a percentage. When a certain volume of air is saturated, its relative humidity is 100 percent. If you hear a weather forecaster say that the relative humidity is 50 percent, it means that the air contains 50 percent of the water vapor needed for the air to be saturated.

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  • fastolph
    How hard the wind blows per hour in the tropical rainforest?
    8 years ago
  • Savanna
    What does the temperature increase or decrease with altitude in each layer?
    8 years ago
  • teodros mewael
    How are pressure, density and altitude are all related?
    8 years ago

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