- Pressure gradient
In atmospheric sciences (
meteorology, climatologyand related fields), the pressure gradient (typically of air, more generally of any fluid) is a physical quantity that describes in which direction and at what rate the pressurechanges the most rapidly around a particular location. The pressure gradient is a dimensional quantity expressed in units of pressure per unit length. The SI unit is pascal per metre(Pa/m).
where "x", "y" and "z" are the coordinates of the location of interest, then the pressure gradient is the vector quantity defined as
Strictly speaking, the concept of pressure gradient is a "local" characterization of the air (more generally of the fluid under investigation). The pressure gradient is defined only at those spatial scales at which pressure (more generally
fluid dynamics) itself is defined.
planetary atmospheres (including the Earth's), the pressure gradient is a vector pointing roughly downwards, because the pressure changes most rapidly vertically, increasing downwards. The value of the strength (or norm) of the pressure gradient in the troposphereis typically of the order 9 Pa/m (or 90 hPa/km).
The pressure gradient often has a small but critical horizontal component, which is largely responsible for the
windcirculation. The horizontal pressure gradient is a 2-dimensional vector resulting from the projection of the pressure gradient onto a local horizontal plane.
Earth's surface, this horizontal pressure gradient is typically pointing towards high pressure air masses ( anticyclones), its particular orientation at any one time and place depends strongly on the weather situation. At mid- latitudes, the typical horizontal pressure gradient may take on values of the order of 10-2 Pa/m (or 10 Pa/km), although rather higher values occur within meteorological fronts.
Weather and climate relevance
Differences in air pressure between different locations are critical in weather forecasting and climate. As indicated above, the pressure gradient constitutes one of the main forces acting on the air to make it move as wind. Note that the pressure gradient force points from high towards low pressure zones, it is thus oriented in the opposite direction from the pressure gradient itself.
Soundwaves and shock waves are events that can induce very large pressure gradients, but these are often transitory disturbances.
Day to day experiences and health issues
ears detect and interpret sound waves; as such they are delicate, sensitive organs to measure pressure gradients. Excessive pressure gradients can hurt or damage the auditory system. By contrast, pressure alone does not have quite the same effect: divers can reach significant depths under water (and thus experience very large pressures) without damage, provided appropriate and necessary precautions are taken.
* Edward N. Lorenz (1967) "The nature and theory of the general circulation of atmosphere", World Meteorological Organization, Publication No. 218, Geneva, Switzerland.
* Robert G. Fleagle and Joost A. Businger (1980) "An Introduction to Atmospheric Physics", Second Edition, Academic Press, International Geophysics Series, Volume 25, ISBN 0-12-260355-9.
* John M. Wallace and Peter V. Hobbs (2006) "Atmospheric Science: An Introductory Survey", Second Edition, Academic Press, International Geophysics Series, ISBN 0-12-732951-X.
* [http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc_tar/wg1/index.htm IPCC Third Assessment Report]
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Look at other dictionaries:
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