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5 Ways to Teach Atmospheric Circulation, Climate, and Biomes

Nabiha Khalid
Teaching with Labster
October 17, 2022

Introduction to Atmospheric Circulation, Climate, and Biomes

The way air moves around the Earth is known as atmospheric circulation. The tricellular model below depicts the three convection cells that make up each hemisphere. The equator collects the most sunlight because of the sun's position in relation to the Earth, and because of the tilt of the Earth, the southern hemisphere gets more sunshine than the northern hemisphere. The poles experience low-angle, widely dispersed incoming sunlight, which causes a substantially cooler temperature. The equator will be significantly hotter, and the pole would've been substantially colder without air circulation. Airflow distributes heat to various parts of the world, affecting regional climates and biomes.

Additionally, each cell generates distinct prevailing winds that blow either eastward or westward. The Coriolis effect, which is a result of the Earth's rotation, is what prevents the winds from blowing directly from north to south (or conversely).

This pattern, which is referred to as atmospheric circulation, arises as a result of the fact that the Sun warms the equator of the Earth more than it does the poles. Additionally, it is influenced by the rotation of the Earth. In regions that are closer to the equator, hot air tends to rise. It is all due to the global atmospheric circulation that is created by the Earth's rotation and the amount of heat that different portions of the planet receive. This is why we have various weather systems, deserts, jet streams, and prevailing winds.

atmospheric circulation

Source: Labster’s theory page

Since the width of the Earth is greatest near the equator, this indicates that the surface of the Earth rotates more quickly at the equator than it does at the poles. Because of this, as winds move northern and southern, the Earth’s rotation diverts them east to west. When air travels in the direction of the equator, it is diverted to the west, and when it travels in the other direction, it is diverted to the east. The name for this kind of occurrence is the "Coriolis effect."

The Coriolis effect is a significant factor in the overall explanation of why winds in areas of high-pressure blow westward and winds in areas of low pressure blow eastward inside the northern hemisphere, but the opposite is true in the southern hemisphere.

The variation in the amount of solar energy absorbed in various latitudes causes atmospheric circulation. Locations that are more exposed to the sun have higher average temperatures. Locations that receive less sun energy have lower average temperatures. The air that is warmer rises, whereas air that is cooler sinks. Because of these principles, the air moves all the way around the earth. There are specific ways in which the heat travels around the world. Because of this, we can establish how the atmosphere flows.

Large-scale habitats known as biomes can be identified by their distinctive flora and climate (figure below).  

major biomes of the earth

Source: Labster’s theory page

Vegetation and climate influence biome animals and other species. Terrestrial and aquatic biomes make up Earth. Terrestrial biomes are land-based, while aquatic biomes are ocean and freshwater. Temperature and rainfall influence biome distribution. Temperatures are high towards the equator and low near the poles. Sunlight hits the tropics more strongly. Sunlight hitting the poles at an angle reduces light (and generates heat) per unit area. Altitude lowers the temperature. Thinner atmospheres at high elevations trap less solar heat. Mountains at low latitudes have similar biomes because altitude and latitude decrease temperatures. An elevation of 1000 feet changes vegetation and fauna like a 600-mile trip north.

Temperature dominates where precipitation is reasonably abundant—40 inches (approximately 1 m) or more per year—and equally distributed. Limiting considerations include whether it freezes and how long the growing season is. Seasonality and average precipitation, and temperature define biomes.

Latitude impacts precipitation and temperature. Deserts form at latitudes around 30° and at the poles, north and south, due to atmospheric circulation and wind patterns. Solar energy from the sun's average position over Earth powers atmospheric and oceanic circulation. Direct light heats unevenly based on latitude and angles of incidence, with considerable solar energy within the tropics and little at the poles. Deserts result from atmospheric circulation and location. Sinking air creates trade breeze deserts like the Sahara and the Australian Outback 30° north or south of the equator.

Why Atmospheric Circulation, Climate, and Biomes is challenging topic for students?

1. Confusion among terminologies

The idea of climate is confused with everyday weather. Students don't have a clear image of the weather, atmosphere, forecast, climate, etc. 

2. Facts and figures

Because the atmosphere is such a broad topic, it can be challenging for students to retain a lot of the material they are taught. Students frequently struggle with the concept of understanding processes and systems. Because it is an interdisciplinary field of study, students take a wide range of courses covering chemistry and biology fundamentals. The addition of figures and facts is so confusing that can add more anxiety among students. Students need to have a firm grasp of the fundamentals of biology before moving on to more advanced ideas and procedures in the field. 

3. No visual Aid

Because they take place on a figure scale, alterations in climate and atmosphere cannot always be seen by humans. It can be discouraging for students to study a topic if they cannot envision the process and cannot see how it applies to the real world. This can also make it difficult for students to maintain their excitement about the topic.

Five ways to make Atmospheric Circulation, Climate, and Biomes interesting for students

1. Background knowledge

Students should have a clear image of the Tricellular model in their minds. Tricellular models explain atmospheric meridional circulation. This model divides global air circulation into three cells. Global air circulation thermal and kinetic factors split these cells.

  • Sunlight concentrated somewhere at the equator heats the Earth's surface and air. Warm air rises, creating low pressure. At the tropopause, air rising at the equator divides and moves poleward. The air cools, sinks, and creates high pressure at 30°. Sinking air replaces warm, ascending air at the equator, closing the circulation loop. The Hadley cell generates northeast and southeast prevailing winds.

  • Ferrel cells flow in opposite directions and are not temperature-driven like Hadley and Polar cells. The Polar and Hadley cells on either side pull the Ferrel cell along, providing most of its energy. The westerlies occur as surface air in such cells moves from the equator and is deflected east by Earth's rotation.

  • Polar cells are farthest from the equator and coldest. At the poles, warm air from Ferrel cells cools and falls, creating a dry, high-pressure environment. The polar easterlies are created by cold air sinking at the poles and flowing toward the mid-latitudes.

2. Example from major biomes

Students should know the distribution of climate across different biomass. Some of the examples are as follows: 

Deserts: The Sahara and Arctic tundras are deserts. The lack of yearly rainfall defines deserts. At different latitudes, hot and polar deserts receive little rainfall. Deserts arise in high-pressure areas of chilly, dry, sinking air due to atmospheric circulation. Air sinking to Earth creates strong westward winds. Deserts have minimal biodiversity because of strong winds, little precipitation, and severe temperatures.

Temperate deciduous forests, like Taiga, are mostly in the north. Westerly winds and low-pressure and high-pressure zones cause air pressure to fluctuate. Due to their considerable annual rainfall, some are considered temperate rainforests. High biodiversity results from the warm climate and high rainfall.

Temperate grasslands in the mid-latitudes receive modest rainy season and westerly breezes. Temperate grasslands have few streams, trees, and biodiversity due to low summer rainfall.

Taiga: The biggest biome on Earth, taiga, grows between 45° and 60° N in the northern hemisphere. This latitudinal range is mostly ocean in the southern hemisphere. Its latitude makes it cold and dry. Due to its harsh environment, this biome is mostly evergreen plants and lacks biodiversity.

Savannas: Due to their environment, savannas are mixed woodland and grasslands with significant biodiversity. They form between the equator and mid-latitudes, creating a hot, damp climate. Depending on the hemisphere, they get northeast or southeast trades.

Rainforest: Tropical rainforests and dry tropical woodlands form near the equator. Tropical forests emerge as hot air rises at the equator, creating a low-pressure area with high humidity and rainfall. Dry tropical forests form farther from the equator and receive less rainfall. High diversity results from a warm, sunny climate.

3. Hands-on activity

As they create a weather forecast for the class, students monitor weather forecasts to determine how accurate they are. They hone their observational, logging, and reporting skills. Think about bringing the class on a field trip to a nearby television station so they can observe firsthand how a weather broadcast is made and meet the local weather experts they have seen on TV. Ask them to research the matter. Make weather maps for your report's usage. If possible, create three maps: one for the local report (cities and counties), one for the state report, and one for the federal fact sheet (often a satellite image). Create reusable cloud, snow, sun, rainfall, lightning, and high- and low-front symbols. 

4. Seeing is believing 

You can provide a clear mental image of how the atmospheric circulation cell system is driven by changes in the general atmospheric pressure at different latitudes and differences in the amount of solar radiation entering the atmosphere. For this purpose, you can utilize a graphical presentation by Labster.

5. Using a virtual lab simulation

No single experiment can be performed regarding climate change and biomass in the labs. However, you can use virtual lab simulations if your institute lacks resources or even just to supplement! They are a great alternative and addition to physical experimentation. At Labster, we are committed to providing you with an interactive simulation that contains a gamified and story-telling environment set up in a 3D world. Check out the Atmospheric Circulation, Climate, and Biomes: Determine the lab’s location! Virtual Lab where students learn and experiment as they progress in the simulation.

Atmospheric Circulation, Climate, and Biomes: Determine the lab’s location! Virtual Lab GIF

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