Atmospheric Heat Engines—Global Atmospheric Circulation

Written by Dr Jerry L Krause

C. Sutcliffe (Weather and Climate) wrote:  “It was from the study of the prevailing winds as they were observed, especially the surface winds from the days of world exploration in sailing ships, that the concept of the general circulation of the atmosphere, the most important concept in the whole of meteorology, arose.”sutcliffe

And, “If the general circulation is, by definition, a matter of average winds of the world it immediately embraces all the other major physical quantities and physical processes.  One cannot go far in the study of winds without introducing the driving force, the pressure; and one cannot go far in the study of pressure without introducing air density and air temperature for the pressure of the air above.  Again the study of temperature introduces energy and its transformation, the absorption and emission of radiation, evaporation and condensation and the conversion of latent heat:  vertical motions introduce clouds and rainfall, and so on until the whole of weather science is drawn into the argument.  Thus, a complete understanding of the general circulation of the atmosphere implies a complete understanding of every process in world climatology and it is for this reason that it may justifiably be called the central problem of the science.”

If I were to ask—What is the prime mover of this atmospheric circulation?, what might one answer?  In C. Donald Ahrens very popular meteorology textbook—Meteorology Today 9th Ed—I find the statement:  “We know the primary cause of the atmosphere’s general circulation is the unequal heating that occur between tropical and polar regions.” 

Steven A. Ackerman and John A. Knox in their popular meteorology textbook, Meteorology 3rd Ed, introduce the idea of conceptual models.  And they state:  “A simple conceptual model of the global wind pattern must explain the steady winds that have long been observed by mariners.  A model of global atmospheric circulation must also be consistent with other observed pattern, such as the position of deserts and regions of high precipitation in January and July (Figure 7-4, shown below).

january

july   

From the figures above can be seen how small these regions of great precipitation are relative to the total area of the earth’s surface; we see where they are (generally) and where they are not.

The titles of the first five chapters of Physical Chemistry 2nd Ed. by Farrington Daniels and Robert A. Daniels were:  1. Introduction; 2. Gases; 3. First Law of Thermodynamics; 4. Thermochemistry; 5. Second and Third Laws of Thermodynamics.  In the first chapter I learned that physical chemistry was composed of thermodynamics, kinetics, quantum theory, statistical mechanics, and molecular structure.  In the second chapter, while there was considerable mathematical equations and reasoning, about the only thing I could claim to have learned was PV=nRT (The Ideal Gas Law). 

The third chapter began:  “This chapter provides an introduction to the applications of the concepts of heat, work, energy, and heat capacity in physical chemistry.  It is followed by a chapter on the measurement of the heats of chemical reactions.  Much of physical chemistry is based upon thermodynamics, which deals with the heat and work accompanying chemical and physical processes.  In this chapter I learned there were five types of work:  Mechanical; Volume expansion; Surface increase; Electrical; Gravitational.  I learned that “Only work and heat can be measured directly, but it is helpful to define energy, which includes the internal energy of a substance as well as heat and work.”  And I learned the First Law of Thermodynamics:  “A cyclic process is a process in which a system is carried through a series of steps which eventually bring the system back to its initial conditions.  The change in internal energy for a cyclic process is zero since the internal energy is a function only of the state of the system.”  And there were more mathematical equations which I cannot claim to fully comprehend as I know others do.

In these general comments I pass over the 4th chapter because it is Thermochemistry and not so directly related to the physical properties of the atmosphere.  And the 5th chapter is the primary reason I have briefly reviewed the first three chapters and the little I learned in their study.  The 5th Chapter began:  “The first law of thermodynamics states that when one form of energy is converted into another the total energy is conserved, but it does not indicate any other restriction on this process.  Although various forms of work can be converted completely into heat and ideally may be transformed completely into one another, it is found that only a fraction of a quantity of heat may be converted into work in a cyclic process.”

I have reviewed how little I learned in the first three chapters to state:  This last statement I consider I fully understand and it is something I have never read in the context of the endless 2nd Law arguments that are made in the context of the greenhouse effect.  I have never read that a thunderstorm, during which atmosphere is lifted from the surface to the top of the troposphere, is a clearly defined heat engine except the cyclic is not completed during its brief existence.

It is written that Solomon long ago stated:  “The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises.  The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course.  All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full.  To the place the streams come from, there they return again.” (Holy Bible, Ecclesiastes 1: 5-7 (NIV) 

Hence, there is little doubt that when we study weather and climate we are studying cyclic processes.  So, the purpose of this article is consider what we know about heat engines and their functioning.  I am sorry it took so long to get to this point, but it seems an observable fact that those who debate weather and climate have never gotten to this point.  However, these debaters might consider that what I will review is too unique and therefore term if crazy.  While yet others might claim that thunderstorms have been described in detail so nothing of worth can be added to what is known.

However, I believe we can generally agree that thunderstorms are small, isolated, atmospheric events of short duration.  I believe we can agree that after a thunderstorm has ‘passed’ there remains an observable ‘thin’ cloud high in the atmosphere indicating that all the matter lifted from the surface has not been cycled back to the surface in the vicinity of the thunderstorm.  But there is a rule:  what goes up must come down.  So there is the question:  Where does that cloud, which remains after the event of the thunderstorm long passed, come down?  But this will be a question for later.

The first question that it seems to need be answered is:  Why does this small thunderstorm, which so quickly does work in lifting atmosphere from the surface to the top of the troposphere, have such a brief existence?  The answer, I believe, is:  “it is found that only a fraction of a quantity of heat may be converted into work in a cyclic process.” 

The sun heats the earth’s surface and the surface heats the atmosphere in contact with it and according the ideal gas law this heated atmosphere at the base of the atmosphere expands so that it density becomes less than nearby surface atmosphere which has been heated as much. 

So by the principle of buoyancy the more heated surface atmosphere is lifted by the denser, cooler, atmosphere away from the surface.  Of course, this process has been described over and over.  And we understand that the temperature of this lifted parcel of atmosphere decreases as its internal kinetic energy is converted to gravitational potential energy. 

And we understand (observe) that at some point, as this parcel of atmosphere is lifted, water vapor will begin to condense to form cloud.  And we understand that this condensation of water vapor releases energy (termed the latent heat of condensation) which slows the cooling of the temperature as the parcel continues to be lifted through an atmosphere whose temperature is less than that of the parcel. 

And we understand this lifting process would continue to the limit of the atmosphere if the temperature of the atmosphere through which the parcel is being lifted did not begin to warm so that at some point the temperature of the parcel was no longer greater than that of the surrounding atmosphere which had been lifting the parcel.

What has been lost in this common description of a thunderstorm event is: “that only a fraction of a quantity of heat may be converted into work in a cyclic process.”  And I do not know how to find it except by drawing upon our common experiences (observations) of the heat engines that we have invented.  For what happens to these heat engines, if the energy of the fuel being consumed that is doing a small amount of work, is not removed from the vicinity of the engine? 

We know, I believe, that the engine will quickly self-destruct.  So my answer to the question—   Why do thunderstorms have such a short duration?—is that, if they have no process by which the excess heat can be removed from their vicinity, they self-destruct.  This is the case if they are isolated from another very important, unique, sometimes feature of the atmosphere.

This feature is termed a jet stream.  So, as the parcel rises into it, the excess heat, as well as some of the cloud, is quickly carried away from the top of the thunderstorm so that atmosphere can be continuously lifted from the surface to the base of this jet stream and the lifetime of the thunderstorm can be much longer.  However, jet streams, part of the atmospheric circulation system, are rarely, if ever, observed in tropical regions but thunderstorms certainly are.

Another thing we know about the heat engines, which we have invented, is that they need a fuel to do work.  There seems to be little doubt, once one considers it, that water vapor is the fuel of thunderstorms.  And I quickly jump to the conclusion that precipitation is the exhaust of these natural heat engines known as thunderstorms.  For we observe that even though thunderstorms can have a short lifetime, they often produce a great amount of precipitation in their short lifetime.  Hence, the great importance of Ackerman and Knox’s Figure-4.  For in this figure we can see (observe) the quite small localized regions where thunderstorms exert their tremendous influence in driving the global atmospheric circulation.  The fewer thunderstorms, which occur at higher latitudes, than those of the tropics, do drive certain regional atmospheric circulations.  And it has been observed how these higher latitude thunderstorms can strongly influence the localized atmospheric circulations of their ‘vicinities’.

I love the Sutcliffe quote—“All this may seem a far cry from the general circulation of the world’s atmosphere but the detail serves to point the moral, that one cannot explain the broad features of world climate if one does not know the actual mechanisms involved.”

Comments (13)

  • Avatar

    Jim McGinn

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    JM:
    Jerry, I think your examination of Sutcliffe has left you confused.

    JK:
    Why does this small thunderstorm, which so quickly does work in lifting atmosphere from the surface to the top of the troposphere, have such a brief existence? The answer, I believe, is: “it is found that only a fraction of a quantity of heat may be converted into work in a cyclic process.”

    JM:
    Where do you get this silly notion that the lifting was caused by heat? The lift was causes by LOW PRESSURED energy that itself was delivered to the location by conduit vortices that exist in abundance along the tropopause and that are ultimately linked to the jet stream. There is no heat associated with a T storm. You have to realize that all meteorologists, including Sutcliffe, are birdbrains that have created fictional explanations that are designed to fool the gullible public.

    JK:
    The sun heats the earth’s surface and the surface heats the atmosphere in contact with it and according the ideal gas law this heated atmosphere at the base of the atmosphere expands so that it density becomes less than nearby surface atmosphere which has been heated as much.

    JM:
    Jerry, you are ignorant of what is really happening in the atmosphere. Warm air is a sponge for moisture. Thus, warm air is almost always heavier than dry air because it contains a lot of microdroplets of moisture. Convection is a non-factor in earth’s atmosphere. It’s just fiction

    JK:
    So by the principle of buoyancy

    JM:
    There is no principle of buoyancy. The notion is nonsense. Don’t be gullible. Force meteorologists to prove that moist air is (can be) lighter than dry air. Don’t just take their word for it. They are no better than climatologists. Make these birdbrains prove that H2O can be a gas below its boiling point. Make them show you the proof. They can’t.

    the more heated surface atmosphere is lifted by the denser, cooler, atmosphere away from the surface. Of course, this process has been described over and over.

    Who cares. It’s pseuodoscience.

    And we understand that the temperature of this lifted parcel of atmosphere decreases as its internal kinetic energy is converted to gravitational potential energy.

    It is not an understanding until it has been tested. It’s just a belief. You should know the difference.

    And we understand (observe) that at some point, as this parcel of atmosphere is lifted,

    It’s lifted by low pressure energy that is channeled from above through conduits that depend on moisture for their existence. Convection plays no role whatsoever.

  • Avatar

    Pat Obar

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    From your Good Science thresd:
    Beside the acknowledgement of observed temperature inversions, a second observation is required to explain how “on a cold clear night with snow on the ground, when a cloud comes along, the air temperature rises.” Sutcliffe, in his book, wrote: “The clouds themselves emit heat continuously according to their temperatures, almost as though they were black bodies.” Hence, a cloud base warmer than the earth’s surface temperature, because of an atmospheric temperature inversion, should be able to heat the colder surface via radiation. And because this conclusion is solely based upon reproducible observations, I cannot image how this conclusion can be debated (doubted or argued).”

    Very very seldom is a cloud base at a temperature higher than the surface. Where have you observed such? You fail to say what you mean by warmer colder! Is this some temperature or some heat content?
    However, as a cloud may form as WV to airborne water condensate (no precipitation needed) the WV latent heat is converted to sensible heat. This can reduce the environmental lapse rate by 1/2. the reference temperature is not the surface but the cloud top. The surface temperature can increase by the reduction in lapse of the cloud.
    “And we understand that the temperature of this lifted parcel of atmosphere decreases as its internal kinetic energy is converted to gravitational potential energy.”

    This is a deliberate intentional lie. All parts of the atmosphere remain ‘self-buoyant”. The atmosphere exhibits mass hence momentum. The troposphere exhibits no ‘weight’ or gravitational attraction hence no gravitational potential energy. The concept of ‘atmospheric weight’ is completely replaced by the related triplet of pressure, density, and temperature as expressed by the ideal gas law and the isentropic exponent (1.4) of this mostly N2 atmosphere.

    “I love the Sutcliffe quote—“All this may seem a far cry from the general circulation of the world’s atmosphere but the detail serves to point the moral, that one cannot explain the broad features of world climate if one does not know the actual mechanisms involved.” ”

    Indeed! One can never explain this Earth’s atmosphere by piecing together bits in some finite element grid model!!!
    The surface atmosphere has an equatorial tangential momentum of 1000 MPH. This is the mechanical centrifuge that creates all atmospheric motion, radial, longitudinal, and meridional. The very asymmetrical insolation plays absolute hell with most attempts to learn the compressive fluid dynamics and continuum mechanics of this atmosphere.

    Jim McGinn July 15, 2016 at 4:51 am | #
    “Meteorology is as bad or worse than climatology (lest we forget, climatology is an epistemological child of meteorology). Many of meteorology’s fundamental assumptions are blatant nonsense.”
    Dr. Krouse,
    Jim, aka Cladius Denk, is a royal pain, but his take on the attitude of academic meteorologists is correct.
    Academic meteorologists are but those fools kicked out of the Astrology Guild for inventing stupid fantasy for the WHY of what was/is observed, rather than sticking with deterministic of ‘if a,b,c,d ‘e’ is likely next’. Any and all that claim knowledge or certainty of atmospheric process is either a FRAUD or INSANE! Pat

    • Avatar

      Jim McGinn

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      How’s about directly addressing the issue, Pat. Do you agree with me or do you side with those that believe in gaseous H2O at temperatures below its boiling point. Take a stand.

      • Avatar

        Pat Obar

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        Jim,
        I am truly sorry that you cannot “get” the idea of partial pressure. If you pull a vacuum on ice at -40 Centigrade, then stop, the ice must sublimate to a pressure of equilibrium between ice and gaseous WV surround! for that temperature, Look up that pressure. One of the most throughly documented physical properties ever determined! The temperature is but a reflection/concept of local boiling point partial pressure. Your insane concept of “boiling point” is when the partial pressure of H2O reaches 101.325kPa at 100 Celsius. Please stop going round in circles!

        • Avatar

          Jim McGinn

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          the ice must sublimate to a pressure of equilibrium between ice and gaseous WV

          LOL. Sublimation doesn’t involve gaseous H2O. It’s insane to suggest it does.

          LOL These four words don’t belong together: “boiling point partial pressure.”

          You are a simpleton who won’t address the real isssue.

          Moist air is heavier than dry air. Convection is, therefore, impossible. And there is no such thing as latent heat of H2O. This is all a fiction. And you brought partial pressure into the discussion for obfuscation.

          It’s funny how you claim meteorologists are frauds yet you mirror their thinking.

  • Avatar

    Jim McGinn

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    Yes, I kow what you are saying. And that’s a good point.

    Thanks for your open mindedness. That is a rare trait.

    More provocation:

    Five Questions That All Meteorologists Refuse to Answer

    1) Why we should believe that moist air contains gaseous H2O if such
    has never been detected?

    2) Why we should believe moist air is lighter than dry air if such
    has never been measured?

    3) How does the undetected gaseous H2O somehow release 1,000 times
    the latent heat than has ever been measured in a laboratory upon
    condensing from a gaseous H2O that has never been detected?

    4) How does this undetected latent heat push the atmosphere and,
    somehow, cause the emergence of distinct bands of flow–jetstreams–
    along the tropopause?

    5) How does this explain the highly structured entities, tornadoes,
    that have been observed descending down from above (and not emerging
    from below as convection theory predicts)?

    Our atmosphere is a big sponge for energy:
    https://groups.google.com/d/msg/sci.physics/cldqCr_vk6s/NsoPvTIvCAAJ

    • Avatar

      Jerry L Krause

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      Hi Jim,

      I may be open minded but I will not allow you to divert my attention by your nonsense. Clouds, thunderstorms, precipitation are easily observed and can only be explained by the fact of gaseous water in the atmosphere.

      Have a good day, Jerry

      • Avatar

        Jim McGinn

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        I mistook your vagueness for open mindedness. Observation is one part of the scientific method. The other parts aren’t optional. Address the issues I bring up or kindly go away. Vague nitwits need not bother.

  • Avatar

    Jerry L Krause

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    Hi Jim,

    My comments: I do not pretend to know what or why other people think what they. I am aware of many ills that modern science has demonstrate during the 20th Century that continues to the present. Many of these ills had nothing to do with politics or governments. In 1896 Svante Arrhenius, as I am sure you know, published a paper, in English, about his radiation balance calculation and his calculation of what he stated was the temperature of the ground. He knew he was using average temperatures of the atmosphere observed about 1.5m above the ground. The editor of the journal should have known this, If this article was peer reviewed, the reviewers should have been qualified enough to know the atmosphere is not the ground. Bad science.

    I try to review what others, who should be more qualified than myself, have written. Yes, I do insert my understanding when it differs from what I read. I know nothing about the plasma phase of water, because until you mentioned it I have never read anyone writing about it. Since I know nothing about it I cannot comment about your ideas. Yes, I know that you might find that I write something which you have not read. How you deal with it is up to you.

    Have a good day, Jerry

    • Avatar

      Jerry L Krause

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      Hi Jim,

      I should have acknowledged that you made a very good point about the diurnal heating and cooling cycle. But I jumped to the conclusion that when Ahrens referred to the cooler polar region he was considering the winter polar region, where at the extreme example of the literal pole, day is about six months and night is about six months in duration. I was giving him credit that he knew that a heat engine required a temperature difference, and the greatest temperature between the tropics and polar regions occurs during the polar winter season. But as I said, I really do not know what conditions he put on this statement because he did elaborate more.

      Have a good day, Jerry

      • Avatar

        Jerry L Krause

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        Hi Jim,

        And you can see I often have a proofreading problem. Hopefully you can grasp what I intended but did not write.

        Have a good day, Jerry

  • Avatar

    Jim McGinn

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    J.L K:
    In C. Donald Ahrens very popular meteorology textbook—Meteorology Today 9th Ed—I find the statement: “We know the primary cause of the atmosphere’s general circulation is the unequal heating that occur between tropical and polar regions.”

    JMcG:
    This isn’t quite accurate. Unequal heating occurs between the ever-changing day side of the earth and the night side of the earth. This is what powers the jet streams and the jet streams are what powers the trade winds. The tropics and the poles are connected through votrices that exist along the tropopause and it all feeds into the jet streams.

    J.L K:
    The titles of the first five chapters of Physical Chemistry 2nd Ed. by Farrington Daniels and Robert A. Daniels were: 1. Introduction; 2. Gases; 3. First Law of Thermodynamics; 4. Thermochemistry; 5. Second and Third Laws of Thermodynamics. In the first chapter I learned that physical chemistry was composed of thermodynamics, kinetics, quantum theory, statistical mechanics, and molecular structure. In the second chapter, while there was considerable mathematical equations and reasoning, about the only thing I could claim to have learned was PV=nRT (The Ideal Gas Law).

    JMcG:
    Huge pieces of the puzzle are missing, specifically lateral vortices (jet streams and the multiplicitous tributaries to the jet streams). These lateral vortices are what cause the storms in the tropics. They run along the boundary between the tropopause and the stratosphere and are almost always invisible or obscured by clouds. These lateral vortices running along the top of the troposphere are also what connects hurricanes to the jet streams.

    A plasma phase of H2O that only exists on wind-shear boundaries (Note: the tropopause is the most significant wind-shear boundary on our planet) is essential to the existence of these lateral (but invisible) vortices.

    Ignorance of this plasma phase of H2O is the biggest shortcoming of meterology:
    https://groups.google.com/forum/#!searchin/sci.physics/plasma$20spinning$20microdroplets

    Convection and latent heat are to meteorology what greenhouse effect is to climatology: propaganda, fictional, imaginary . . .

  • Avatar

    Jim McGinn

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    Ask yourself a question, would you yourself be aware of the pseudoscientific notions associated with climatology if not for the politics of global warming? The truth is that you wouldn’t. Before money and politics became involved, If somebody explained to you the details of the empirically fallacious concept of “greenhouse” gases you would most likely respond along the lines of, “that’s interesting.” And if somebody else came along and expressed ignorance of this concept you would, most likely, educate them with the same fallaciousness. And if you encountered somebody that stubbornly maintained that the “greenhouse” effect was nonsense you would most likely describe this person to others as an ignoramus. You wouldn’t give it much thought beyond that.

    And so, why then are you now cognizant of the truth that the “greenhouse” effect is pseudoscience? Because the people pushing it attached a great big price tag to it and people that are fiscally conservative now had the motivation to start digging into the facts, eventually exposing it as the pseuodoscience that it actually is.

    Meteorology is as bad or worse than climatology (lest we forget, climatology is an epistemological child of meteorology). Many of meteorology’s fundamental assumptions are blatant nonsense. The reason you tend to blindly accept these pseudoscientific notions is because there is no big price tag associated with it and, therefore, there is no motivation for fiscally conservatives to closely examine that facts.

    Did you hear the one about the guy that goes to buy a suit?
    http://www.thunderbolts.info/forum/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=8&t=16319

    James McGinn
    Solving Tornadoes

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