Tuesday, February 26, 2013

NASA Student Airborne Research Program

I just got accepted to NASA's Student Airborne Research Program for this summer. I'll be in California this summer working on this sweet DC-8 research airplane...

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Saturation Vapor Pressure

 Saturation vapor pressure is the amount of pressure exerted by water vapor in the air when the air is saturated. Air with a warmer temperature can hold more water vapor, so the water vapor will exert more pressure. The amount of pressure exerted , however, is different over ice than it is water for temperatures below freezing. The following two graphs show how saturation vapor pressure over ice and liquid water change with temperature.

This first figure shows the saturation vapor pressure over liquid in red and over ice in blue.

This next figure shows the difference in vapor pressure over ice and over liquid. This biggest difference occurs near -13 degrees Celsius.

This property of water vapor, saturation vapor pressure over ice and liquid are different, plays a major role in snowflake formation. Water vapor will travel from areas of high vapor pressure to low areas, thus moving from liquid droplets to ice crystals. The water vapor then deposits on the ice crystals causing the ice crystal to grow in size. When the saturation vapor pressure gradients are greatest, around -13 degrees Celsius, snow crystals grow the quickest.

The type of snowflake that forms depends on the saturation vapor pressure and temperature. The following image shows the types of flake that generally form with different conditions.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Foggy Morning

This morning (Sunday, February 3, 2013) the Wasatch woke up to more fog. To me it seems we have had more foggy days than normal. The image from the National Weather Service shows the areas affected by fog this morning. On my way home from church I noticed ice crystals falling, which was interesting.

Fog is simply a cloud that touches the ground. It is made of tiny water droplets suspended in the air. Sometimes you can get precipitation out of fog, like the ice crystals I saw this morning.

Fog can form under several different circumstances but all types require two things: a cooling air parcel and water vapor. The main types include radiation fog, up-slope fog, advection fog, and evaporation fog.

Radiation fog is the type of fog we experienced this morning. Since yesterday was sunny, a lot of the snow melted and evaporated giving one of the ingredients for fog: water vapor. The inversion kept the moist air in the valleys overnight. The second ingredient for fog, cooling temperatures, came during the night. The lowest temperatures happen right before the sun comes up. Since cold air can't hold as much water vapor as warm air, water vapor will condense into tiny water droplets. The temperature at which water turns from a gas to a liquid (condensation) is called the dew point temperature. The dew point temperature is a function of temperature and and amount of water in the air. Relative humidity is a similar measurement. The combination of the evaporating snow and the cold night caused our fog this morning. When the sun came out it warmed the air turning the water droplets back to water vapor. This happens from the surface up, which is why it looks like the fog "lifts" when the sun shines.

(I stole this off the internet. I'm still looking for my picture.
Up-slope fog is caused by air flowing up a mountain or hill. Rising air is subject to lower pressure. It thus expands which causes the air to cool. A moist air parcel moving up a mountain side will cool to its dew point temperature and form a cloud. I like to look for up-slope fog after a summer rain storm. The rain storm supplies water vapor to the air and winds carry it up the mountains. I'm looking for a picture I took of up-slope fog, but I haven't been able to find it. I'll post it as soon as I find it.

Advection fog is when warm, moist air moves across cold surfaces. This is common on coasts when moist ocean air moves inland over the cold land like the infamous San Francisco fog.

Evaporation fog is caused by a warm lake evaporating when the air above is cold. You might see this at Yellowstone in the winter when the hot springs evaporate water vapor into the cold air. You can also get evaporation fog over a warm lake when air temperatures are cold.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

"Well it's Groundhog Day...again..."

"It's still just once a year, isn't it?"

     The groundhog did not see its shadow. That means we will have an early spring, right?
     March 20th marks the day the sun is directly over the equator--the first day of spring. On that day we will have 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness. I love all the seasons, but spring has a magical power to make people smile. I think it's because we watch the world come back to life.