I don’t even dream about being in the one percent. The idea of owning a 150-foot yacht is as foreign to me as having little green men show up at my door selling subscriptions. But I am in a more exclusive club of less than one percent; a club of people who know a fact about the atmosphere that is instrumental in all aspects of the weather.
This is a little-known fact so if you read this article you can also join this club. I promise learning this will be relatively painless, unlike what you remember from science classes in school.
Have you ever changed a light bulb in the winter and noticed that it is much warmer towards the ceiling than the floor? Or, been sitting on the floor when someone comes in from the cold and felt the cold air flow across the floor?
Wait, wait, don’t bite my head off yet — of course I know you know that warm air rises and cold air sinks.
So what’s the mystery, you ask?
Well, I’ll ask you — remember the old World War II movies where the pilots had to wear special clothing to keep warm as they climbed into the sky? Or why mountain climbers have to bundle up as they make their ascent? If warm air rises and cold air sinks, why aren’t the mountains warm and the surface where we live cold?
Of course, life on earth would have never developed if that were the case, but I digress.
When was the last time you filled a tire? Did you ever notice that when the air comes out of the nozzle, it’s cold, but when you’re filling up the tire, the tire warms up?
That’s because air heats up when compressed; when it expands (or dispersing after being forced through a small opening), it cools.
There is one more fact to learn and then we can put his all together and admit you to the less than one percent club.
Consider a plane high up in the atmosphere that gets a leak in the cabin, and the air in the cabin rushes outside. That’s when the masks drop, because people that climb above 10,000 feet need oxygen to help them breath. This is because the air pressure decreases in the atmosphere as we climb to higher altitudes.
Now let’s put this all together.
As the sun heats the surface of the earth, bubbles of warm air start to rise. But these bubbles of warm air encounter lower pressure as they rise and by expanding, they cool.
And as bubbles of cold air sink from higher up in the atmosphere, they encounter higher pressure and by compressing, warm back up.
So, the drop in temperature as we climb in the atmosphere is due to the rising of bubbles or warm air that cools, and the warming of cold bubbles of air as they sink.
This results in a stable atmosphere where the warm air stays at the surface and the cold air stays in the mountains and life can flourish on earth as it has for millions of years.
Welcome to the less than one percent club!