Figure 1: Tropical storms as thermodynamic engines. | Nature

Figure 1: Tropical storms as thermodynamic engines.

From: Hurricane heat engines

Figure 1

Air takes up energy, primarily latent heat stored in water vapour, as it spirals into the lower levels of the vortex under the influence of friction. It converges towards the eyewall — a ring of convective clouds that encloses the clear central eye. As the air ascends to the tropopause (the top of the troposphere, where the temperature decreases with height), the vapour condenses, converting the latent heat into sensible heat which is, in turn, converted to mechanical energy that can do work against friction or strengthen the vortex. The energy realized through this cycle is proportional to the difference in temperature between the ocean at roughly 300 K and the upper troposphere at around 200 K. Storm-induced upward mixing of cooler water reduces the ocean-surface temperature by a few degrees, and can have a considerable effect on the fastest wind speed attainable.

Back to article page