The European weather satellite Meteosat, circles the Earth on a geostationary orbit (36.000 km altitude) providing daily current views of our planet. On this color infrared recording of November 22th 2011, you can see some important phenomena of global weather patterns.
Dynamical Weather Systems: Weather on earth-like planets is driven by temperature differences between equator and poles, caused by different sun´s irradiance. In mid – latitudes, where warm tropical and cool polar air masses encounter each other, gradient of temperature (and thereby gradient of pressure) is sufficient to generate a high altitude air current (called tropospheric polar jetstream) on both hemispheres, turning eastward under influence of earth’s rotation.
Breaking a critical speed limit, the jetstream forms Rossby waves with troughs and ridges(wave peaks). A lot of shear forces emerge. The waves break and roll up to vortices. These are the high pressure und low pressure systems, enabled to intermix the warm tropical and cool polar air masses.
The high pressure vortices (anticyclones) are spinning downward and clockwise (counterclockwise) on northern (southern) hemisphere, whereas the low pressure vortices (cyclones) are spinning upward and counterclockwise (clockwise) on northern (southern) hemisphere.
Weather at November 22th, 2011, 12:00 UTC . The ITCZ, the deserts in the Subtropical High Presure Belt and the Low Pressure Systems (Cyclones) of the mid – latidudes are easily dercernable. Natural Color RGB images makes use of three solar channels: red, green and blue. In this color scheme vegetation appears greenish because of its large reflectance in the green beam channel compared to the red and blue beam channels. Water clouds with small droplets have large reflectance at all three channels and hence appear whitish, while snow and ice clouds appears cyan because ice strongly absorbs in red. Bare ground appears brown because of the larger reflectance in the red beam channel than at the blue one, and the ocean appears black because of the low reflectance in all three channels. Source: Meteosat, EUMETSAT
Inside low pressure systems the air rises and cools, so that water vapor condenses, forming clouds made of tiny water droplets or ice crystals (bad weather). Latent heat (thermal energy of condensation) thereby released powers cloud formation on her part warming the rising air.
Inside high pressure systems the air sinks and clouds decay, because water in the condensed form tends to evaporate into water vapor (fair weather).
Cyclones derive their energy not only from the jetstream, but also from latent heat liberated during formation of clouds. In turn they transmitted back a portion of their energy to jetstream.
The pathways of cyclones are affected by the behaviour of the jetstream.But sometimes the high air current slow down or breaks actually, so that the cyclones are able to seperate from jetstream. These cut off lows move slowly and won’t exit a region until they are captured by a trough of a new jetstream, which meanwhile has usually formed.
Low Pressure Systeme (Cyclone) Source: Bjerknes (1922)
Tropical Hadley – Circulation: Away from this areas of high pressure the air masses move equatorially along the surface (tradewinds), where´s a buildup of low pressure (Innertropical Convergence Zone, ITCZ) : These tradewinds turn westward due to earth´s rotation. Heated by the sun, equatorial air rises and cools, forcing whatever water vapor it holds to condense into clouds. The ascended air moves poleward , but it is turned eastward by the earth´s rotation. As moving polewards, the air current contracts closer to the axis of earth’s rotation. So it must spin faster, creating subtropical jetstreams that rotate more rapidly than the Earth itself..In parts however, the air descends in the belt of subtropical pressure, closing the air circulation. This so called Hadley-Circulation.partions in a row of convective cells around the whole planet.
Stratosphere and Polar Vortex: The stratosphere is the next layer of atmosphere above the troposphere, in which most weather processes play. The stratosphere contains little water vapor, but larger quantities of ozone, protecting life by absorption of dangerous solar ultraviolet radiation. Therefore the stratosphere is much warmer than the upper troposphere.
If the stratosphere over the poles is cold enough during the polar night, a polar vortex forms due to a sufficient gradient of temperature to build up an eastward stratospheric jetstream, which is a propulsion engine of tropospheric polar jetstream (see above).
A strong polar vortex favors a poleward, zonal circulation (along the lines of latitude), a weak, often divided polar vortex, however, favors a meridional circulation with pronounced troughs and ridges (along the lines of longitude).