Planetaryscale motions in the atmosphere and ocean

Learning objectives

When you have read this chapter you will:

Learn how and why pressure patterns and wind velocity change with altitude,

Become familiar with the relationships between surface and mid-tropospheric pressure patterns,

Know the features of the major global wind belts,

Be familiar with the basic concepts of the general circulation of the atmosphere, Understand the basic structure of the oceans, their circulation and role in climate, Know the nature and role of the thermohaline circulation.

In this chapter, we examine global-scale motions in the atmosphere and their role in redistributing energy, momentum and moisture. As noted in Chapter 3 (p. 59), there are close links between the atmosphere and oceans with the latter making a major contribution to poleward energy transport. Thus, we also discuss ocean circulation and the coupling of the atmosphere-ocean system.

The atmosphere acts rather like a gigantic heat engine in which the temperature difference existing between the poles and the equator provides the energy supply needed to drive the planetary atmospheric and ocean circulation. The conversion of heat energy into kinetic energy to produce motion must involve rising and descending air, but vertical movements are generally less obvious than horizontal ones, which may cover vast areas and persist for periods of a few days to several months. We begin by examining the relationships between winds and pressure patterns in the troposphere and those at the surface.

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