The general circulation of the atmosphere

8.1. Understanding the observed circulation

8.2. A mechanistic view of the circulation

8.2.1. The tropical Hadley circulation

8.2.2. The extra tropical circulation and GFD Lab XI: Baroclinic instability

8.3. Energetics of the thermal wind equation

8.3.1. Potential energy for a fluid system

8.3.2. Available potential energy

8.3.3. Release of available potential energy in baroclinic instability

8.3.4. Energetics in a compressible atmosphere

8.4. Large-scale atmospheric energy and momentum budget

8.4.1. Energy transport

8.4.2. Momentum transport

8.5. Latitudinal variations of climate

8.6. Further reading

8.7. Problems

In this chapter we return to our discussion of the large-scale circulation of the atmosphere and make use of the dynamical ideas developed in the previous two chapters to enquire into its cause. We begin by reviewing the demands on the atmospheric circulation imposed by global energy and angular momentum budgets as depicted in Fig. 8.1. The atmosphere must transport energy from equator to pole to maintain the observed pole-equator temperature gradient. In addition, because there are westerly winds at the surface in middle latitudes and easterly winds in the tropics (see, e.g., Fig. 7.28), angular momentum must be transported from the tropics to higher latitudes. We discuss how this transfer is achieved by the Hadley circulation in the tropics and weather systems in middle latitudes. We will discover that weather systems arise from a hydrodynamic instability of the thermal wind shear associated with the pole-equator temperature gradient. Produced through a mechanism known as baroclinic instability, the underlying dynamics are illustrated through laboratory experiment and discussed from the perspective of the available potential energy "stored" by the horizontal temperature gradients.

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