well as the type of precipitation to be expected. Also,
the increase or decrease in stability gives further
indication of the lower layer turbulence and visibility.
An air mass may be modified in its moisture
content by the addition of moisture as a result of
evaporation or by the removal of moisture as a result of
condensation and precipitation. If the air mass is
moving over continental regions, the existence of
unfrozen bodies of water can greatly modify the air
mass; in the case of an air mass moving from a
continent to an ocean, the modification can be
temperature of the two surfaces), the movement over a
water surface increases both the moisture content of the
lower layers and the relative temperature near the
For example, the passage of cold air over a warm
water surface decreases the stability of the air with
resultant vertical currents. The passage of warm, moist
air over a cold surface increases the stability and could
result in fog as the air is cooled and moisture is added
Topography of Surface
The effect of topography is evident primarily in the
mountainous regions. The air mass is modified on the
windward side by the removal of moisture through
precipitation with a decrease in stability; and, as the air
descends on the other side of the mountain, the stability
increases as the air becomes warmer and drier.
After an air mass has left its source region, the
trajectory it follows (whether cyclonic or anticyclonic)
has a great effect on its stability. If the air follows a
cyclonic trajectory, its stability in the upper levels is
decreased; this instability is a reflection of cyclonic
relative vorticity. The stability of the lower layers is not
greatly affected by this process. On the other hand, if
the trajectory is anticyclonic, its stability in the upper
levels is increased as a result of subsidence associated
with anticyclonic relative vorticity.
Although the age of an air mass in itself cannot
modify the air mass, it does determine (to a great
extent) the amount of modification that takes place. For
example, an air mass that has recently moved from its
source region cannot have had time to become modified
significantly. However, an air mass that has moved into
a new region and stagnated for some time is now old
and has lost many of its original characteristics.
Modifying Influences on Air Mass Stability
The stability of an air mass often determines the
type of clouds and weather associated with that air
mass. The stability of an air mass can be changed by
either thermodynamic or mechanical means.
influences are reflected in a loss or gain in heat and in
the addition or removal of moisture.
Heat Loss or Gain.The air mass may lose heat
by radiational cooling of Earths surface or by the air
mass passing from a warm surface to a cold surface.
The air mass may gain heat by solar heating of the
ground over which the air mass moves or by the air
mass passing from a cold to a warm surface.
Moisture Increase or Decrease.Moisture may
be added to the air mass by evaporation. One source of
evaporation may be the precipitation as it falls through
the air; other sources may be a water surface, ice and
snow surface, or moist ground. Moisture may be
removed from the air mass by condensation and
MECHANICAL.Mechanical influences on air
masses depend upon movement. The mechanical
process of lifting an air mass over elevation of land,
over colder air masses, or to compensate for horizontal
convergence produces a change in an air mass.
Turbulent mixing and the shearing action of wind also
cause air mass modifications. The sinking of air from
high elevations to relatively lower lands or from above
colder air masses and the descent in subsidence and
lateral spreading are also important mechanical
modifiers of air masses.
The thermodynamic and mechanical influences on
air mass stability are summarized in figure 4-4. The
figure indicates the modifying process, what takes
place, and the resultant change in stability of the air
mass. These processes do not occur independently;
instead, two or more processes are usually in evidence
at the same time. Within any single air mass, the
weather is controlled by the moisture content, stability,
and the vertical movements of air.