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Impact Of Pollution On Convective Currents And Weather

1125 words - 5 pages

There are three ways the sun's heat and energy are transferred throughout the atmosphere: radiation, conduction and convection. The sun's radiation heats the surface of the earth and the resulting heat is transferred to the atmosphere primarily by convection. Conduction is a minor contributor to the overall process since the transfer of heat via the air is a slow, inefficient process. Convection is the vertical process that carries warm air up from the ground to be replaced by cooler air, which in turn is warmed, and cycles upward again. On a global scale, convection is responsible for the atmospheric circulation which redistributes heat from the warm equatorial regions to the poles. The Coriolis effect, the apparent curvature of winds and ocean currents due to the earth's rotation, causes the atmospheric circulation to be divided into three convective zones per hemisphere: Hadley cells (tropical), Ferrell cell (temperate) and the Polar cell (UXL Encyclopedia of Weather and Natural Disasters). These convection cells along with horizontal advection are responsible for global wind patterns. On a smaller, local scale, convection currents are linked to the development of deep convective clouds and local storm systems. Because precipitation is central to the earth's energy balance, circulation, and water cycle, atmospheric scientists have focused their efforts on understanding how pollution effects the development and intensity of convection currents, cloud cover, precipitation, and thunderstorms.
The development of cumulonimbus or thunderhead clouds is an example of a convective cell. In order for a thunderstorm to develop, the sun warms the earth's surface which likewise warms the air above it. As the air rises it is transferred from the earth's surface to the upper atmosphere and the resulting water vapor cools and releases heat forming a cloud by condensation. The cloud continues to rise into the freezing upper atmosphere resulting in cumulus cloud formation. These clouds are responsible for precipitation that is not generally associated with severe thunderstorms. However, if the updraft (convection) continues, precipitation occurs creating a downdraft. In the mature stages, anvil clouds (clouds with a flat top) form when the updraft has reached a point where the surrounding air is equal. The anvil shape clouds form due to the fact that the rising air in thunderstorms expands and spreads out as the air pushes up against the bottom of the stratosphere. The anvil clouds can spread for several miles and have altitudes greater than 40,000 feet. It is during this phase that violent thunderstorms ensue (Wood). One of the major questions for today's atmospheric scientists is whether and how, aerosols invigorate cloud formation (aerosols are cloud condensation nuclei), and enhance updraft velocity of the convective clouds leading to more intense storms.
Using rain data from a satellite-based instrument which measures rain intensity,...

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