A Perfect Planet episode 3 – Weather: Weather controls the distribution of freshwater on Earth, which in turn shapes the lives of animals in diverse habitats around the globe.
Our planet is one in a billion. How incredible, awe-inspiring life is driven by its natural forces – and how we can ensure humans become a force for good. With David Attenborough.
A Perfect Planet episode 3 – Weather
Weather is the state of the atmosphere, describing for example the degree to which it is hot or cold, wet or dry, calm or stormy, clear or cloudy. On Earth, most weather phenomena occur in the lowest level of the planet’s atmosphere, the troposphere, just below the stratosphere. Weather refers to day-to-day temperature and precipitation activity, whereas climate is the term for the averaging of atmospheric conditions over longer periods of time. When used without qualification, “weather” is generally understood to mean the weather of Earth.
Weather is driven by air pressure, temperature, and moisture differences between one place and another. These differences can occur due to the Sun’s angle at any particular spot, which varies with latitude. The strong temperature contrast between polar and tropical air gives rise to the largest scale atmospheric circulations: the Hadley cell, the Ferrel cell, the polar cell, and the jet stream. Weather systems in the middle latitudes, such as extratropical cyclones, are caused by instabilities of the jet streamflow. Because Earth’s axis is tilted relative to its orbital plane (called the ecliptic), sunlight is incident at different angles at different times of the year. On Earth’s surface, temperatures usually range ±40 °C (−40 °F to 100 °F) annually. Over thousands of years, changes in Earth’s orbit can affect the amount and distribution of solar energy received by Earth, thus influencing long-term climate and global climate change.
Shaping the planet Earth
Weather is one of the fundamental processes that shape the Earth. The process of weathering breaks down the rocks and soils into smaller fragments and then into their constituent substances. During rains precipitation, the water droplets absorb and dissolve carbon dioxide from the surrounding air. This causes the rainwater to be slightly acidic, which aids the erosive properties of water. The released sediment and chemicals are then free to take part in chemical reactions that can affect the surface further (such as acid rain), and sodium and chloride ions (salt) deposited in the seas/oceans. The sediment may reform in time and by geological forces into other rocks and soils. In this way, weather plays a major role in erosion of the surface.