What is Atmospheric Circulation – Convection Currents – Definition

One of phenomena, that are of the highest importance for Earth climate is the atmospheric circulation, which is the large-scale movement of air. Thermal Engineering

Convection Currents – Atmospheric Circulation

Earth_Global_Circulation - Convection Currents
Source: nasa.gov License: Public Domain

One of phenomena, that are of the highest importance for Earth climate is the atmospheric circulation, which is the large-scale movement of air, and is a means by which thermal energy (together with ocean circulation) is distributed on the surface of the Earth. The Earth’s atmospheric circulation varies from year to year, but the large scale structure of its circulation remains fairly constant.

The atmospheric circulation is a consequence of illumination of Earth by the Sun, and the laws of thermodynamics. The atmospheric circulation can be viewed as a heat engine driven by the Sun’s energy, and whose energy sink, ultimately, is the blackness of space. From this point of view, also wind turbines are powered by the Sun.

Creation of Convection Currents

Creation of convection currents is based on three physical assumptions:

  • Presence of heat source. Heat source is required, because convection currents are generated by density differences in the fluid occurring due to temperature gradients. In natural convection, fluid surrounding a heat source receives heat and by thermal expansion becomes less dense and rises. Thermal expansion of the fluid plays a crucial role. In other words, heavier (more dense) components will fall, while lighter (less dense) components rise, leading to bulk fluid movement.
  • Presence of proper acceleration. Natural convection can only occur in a gravitational field or in the presence of another proper acceleration, such as acceleration, centrifugal force and Coriolis force. Natural convection essentially does not operate in the orbit of Earth. For example, in the orbiting International Space Station, other heat transfer mechanisms are required to prevent electronic components from overheating.
  • Proper geometry. The presence and magnitude of natural convection also depend on the geometry of the problem. The presence of a fluid density gradient in a gravitational field does not ensure the existence of natural convection currents. This problem is illustrated in the following figure, where a fluid is enclosed by two large, horizontal plates of different temperature (Tupper ≠ Tlower).
    • In case A the temperature of the lower plate is higher than the temperature of the upper plate. In this case, the density decreases in the direction of the gravitational force. This geometry induces fluid circulation and heat transfer occurs via natural circulation. The heavier fluid will descend, being warmed in the process, while the lighter fluid will rise, cooling as it moves.
    • In case B the temperature of the lower plate is lower than the temperature of the upper plate. In this case, the density increases in the direction of the gravitational force. This geometry leads to stable conditions, stable temperature gradient and does not induce fluid circulation. Heat transfer occurs solely via thermal conduction.

natural circulation - geometry

Heat Transfer:
  1. Fundamentals of Heat and Mass Transfer, 7th Edition. Theodore L. Bergman, Adrienne S. Lavine, Frank P. Incropera. John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, 2011. ISBN: 9781118137253.
  2. Heat and Mass Transfer. Yunus A. Cengel. McGraw-Hill Education, 2011. ISBN: 9780071077866.
  3. U.S. Department of Energy, Thermodynamics, Heat Transfer and Fluid Flow. DOE Fundamentals Handbook, Volume 2 of 3. May 2016.

Nuclear and Reactor Physics:

  1. J. R. Lamarsh, Introduction to Nuclear Reactor Theory, 2nd ed., Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA (1983).
  2. J. R. Lamarsh, A. J. Baratta, Introduction to Nuclear Engineering, 3d ed., Prentice-Hall, 2001, ISBN: 0-201-82498-1.
  3. W. M. Stacey, Nuclear Reactor Physics, John Wiley & Sons, 2001, ISBN: 0- 471-39127-1.
  4. Glasstone, Sesonske. Nuclear Reactor Engineering: Reactor Systems Engineering, Springer; 4th edition, 1994, ISBN: 978-0412985317
  5. W.S.C. Williams. Nuclear and Particle Physics. Clarendon Press; 1 edition, 1991, ISBN: 978-0198520467
  6. G.R.Keepin. Physics of Nuclear Kinetics. Addison-Wesley Pub. Co; 1st edition, 1965
  7. Robert Reed Burn, Introduction to Nuclear Reactor Operation, 1988.
  8. U.S. Department of Energy, Nuclear Physics and Reactor Theory. DOE Fundamentals Handbook, Volume 1 and 2. January 1993.
  9. Paul Reuss, Neutron Physics. EDP Sciences, 2008. ISBN: 978-2759800414.

Advanced Reactor Physics:

  1. K. O. Ott, W. A. Bezella, Introductory Nuclear Reactor Statics, American Nuclear Society, Revised edition (1989), 1989, ISBN: 0-894-48033-2.
  2. K. O. Ott, R. J. Neuhold, Introductory Nuclear Reactor Dynamics, American Nuclear Society, 1985, ISBN: 0-894-48029-4.
  3. D. L. Hetrick, Dynamics of Nuclear Reactors, American Nuclear Society, 1993, ISBN: 0-894-48453-2.
  4. E. E. Lewis, W. F. Miller, Computational Methods of Neutron Transport, American Nuclear Society, 1993, ISBN: 0-894-48452-4.

See also:

Convection Currents

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