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Chapter 11

Chapter 11



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Published by: api-3749116 on Oct 15, 2008
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ir pressure and winds are the invisible
elements of weather that influence

other elements in a significant way. They influence temperature and precipitation. Even a minor change in pressure, changes the velocity and direction of winds and this in turn brings about changes in temperature and precipitation. Air pressure is not readily sensed by human body, but wind is. Atmospheric pressure is the weight of the column of air on the surface of the earth at sea level. It is about 1 kilogram per cm2.


Air is a mixture of several gases. Gas molecules are in constant state of collusion and move about freely. Pressure of air at a given place is defined as a force exerted against surface by continuous collision of gas molecules. Therefore, it is the consequence of weight of all air above it. The amount of pressure exerted by air at a particular point is determined by temperature and density. It follows that a change in either temperature or density will cause corresponding change in pressure.

The air pressure is measured as a force per unit area. The units used by meteorologist for this purpose are called millibars (mb). One millibar is equal to the force of one thousand dynes on a cm2. The instrument used for measuring air pressure is called a barometer. The normal pressure at sea level is 1,013.25 mb (about 76 cm).

The distribution of atmospheric pressure is shown on a map by isobars. Anisobar is an imaginary line drawn through places having equal atmospheric pressure at sea level. The spacing of isobars expresses the rate and direction of the pressure changes and is referred to as pressure gradients.

There are two types of pressure systems; high pressure and low pressure. Temperature is the most common cause of pressure differentiation. Air that is cooled at the bottom will sink and increase pressure, whereas warming will cause air to rise and thus, lower the pressure. The change in temperature is caused either by solar radiation or, induced by some external dynamic agencies like friction caused by rubbing or by force produced through rotation of the earth. Thus, pressure change takes place either by thermal or dynamic processes.

Distribution of atmospheric pressure is not uniform over the earth\u2019s surface. It varies vertically as well as horizontally.

Vertical Distribution

Air pressure varies according to temperature and altitude. In the first few thousand metres above the sea level, the pressure decreases at the rate of 1millibar for every 10 metres. It drops to half its surface value (from 1,013.2mb to 540.4mb) at about 5 km. The rate of fall of pressure with height is determined partly by the rate of fall in temperature.

Horizontal Distribution of
Pressure \u2014 Global Pattern

The horizontal distribution of pressure across the latitudes in general, presents an alternate belt of low and high pressure areas (Fig. 11.1). You will notice that there is a inverse relationship between pressure and temperature. The equatorial region having high temperature has low pressure. While the polar regions with low temperature have high pressure. These pressure belts are thermally induced. Logically, there should have been a gradual increase in pressure from the equator towards the poles. This is, however, not so.


There are two intermediate zones of sub- tropical highs in the vicinity of 300 N and S and two sub-polar lows in the vicinity of 600 N and S. Formation of these pressure belts may be explained by dynamic controls: pressure

gradient force and rotation of the earth. The
pressure gradient is defined as the decrease in

pressure per unit distance in the direction in which the pressure decreases most rapidly. The warm air of the equatorial low pressure belt gradually gets cool in its ascent. Upon reaching upper layers, it starts moving towards the pole. It further cools and begins to subside in a zone between 20 and 35 degrees latitudes. Two factors are responsible for the general, subsidence of air in this belt. First, cooling of the air results in increased density, which accounts for its subsidence. Second, owing to the rotation of the earth from west to east, poleward directed winds are deflected eastwards.

On the rotating earth, a point on the equator moves fastest. As we go towards the poles, the speed decreases, reaching almost zero at the poles. It is because of this difference in speed that any moving body such as winds and ocean currents get deflected when they move towards the equator or away from the equator (Fig. 11.2). The force of deflection was first discovered by Coriolis, a French mathematician, and hence, called Coriolis force. It was later elaborated by

Fig.11.1 : Pressure Belts of the World
Fig.11.2 : Impact of the Rotating Earth on Pressure Distribution

Ferrel and is known as Ferrel\u2019s law. It states that all moving bodies like wind and ocean currents get deflected from their normal paths towards right in the northern hemisphere and towards left in the southern hemisphere. The rate of deflection increases with the distance from the equator. As a result, by the time the poleward-directed winds reach 25 degrees latitude, they are deflected into a nearly west to east flow. It produces a blocking effect and the air piles up aloft. This causes a general subsidence in the areas between the tropics and 350 N and S. They develop into high- pressure belts. The winds coming from the sub- tropics and polar areas converge and rise in a zone between 450 N and S and the Arctic and the Antarctic circles, respectively. These are the areas of sub-polar lows. This is well explained in (Figs. 11.2 and 11.3)

Thus, there are seven pressure belts in all as
shown in Fig.11.1. They are:
Equatorial trough of low pressure;
Subtropical high pressure belt (northern
Subtropical high pressure belt (southern
Subpolar low pressure belt (northern
Subpolar low pressure belt (southern
Polar high (northern hemisphere); and
Polar high (southern hemisphere).
Equatorial Trough of Low Pressure

This belt is located on either side of the equator extending between 00 and 100 N and S. Its outer margins shift north and south of the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn respectively, due to apparent movement of the sun. it is thermally produced low pressure belt. Here, the pressure is more uniform than that in other parts of the world. Surface winds are generally absent since winds approaching this region begin to rise vertically near its margin. It is, therefore, a region of extremely calm air and is called thedoldrums.

Subtropical High Pressure (Horse Latitude)

The subtropical high pressure is located between the tropics (250 N and S) and 350 north and south latitudes. This belt is broken into a number of high pressure cells. The high pressure is caused due to the subsidence and piling of the air. A calm condition with variable and feeble winds is created in this region. These regions are often referred to as \u2018horse latitudes\u2019 because in the early days, the sailing vessels with the cargo of horse found it difficult to sail under such calm conditions. The sailors used to throw the horses in the sea to make the vessels lighter for smooth sailing and hence, the name.

Subpolar Low Pressure Belt

The subpolar low pressure belt is located between 450 north and south latitudes and the Arctic and the Antarctic circles respectively. These low pressure cells are well developed in the north Atlantic and north Pacific regions. The low pressure is caused by converging and rising air. Due to a great contrast between the temperature of the winds from subtropical and

Fig.11.3 : Pressure Belts and Arrangement of Cells

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