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George Hadley's initial model of the Hadley cell described air as being heated at the equator, ascending, and then moving aloft pole-wards where it would cool and descend. Meanwhile surface air would move towards the equator to take the place of the rising hot air there, forming a giant Hadley cell, as in the picture below:

enter image description here

However the modern conception of the Hadley cell is one where air ascends at the equator while air at an angle of 30° latitude descends, with winds moving towards the equator on the surface, and with winds moving towards the poles aloft to complete the cell. The modern conception of the Polar cell also works in the same manner, with the difference being that the expanding air hot air in this cell originates from 60° latitude, rather than from the equator.

enter image description here

Why is it that the air in the Hadley cell descends at 30° latitude, as opposed to continuing all the way to the poles as Hadley had initially suggested, and why does air then rise again at 60° latitude forming the Polar cell?

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The Hadley cell was proposed and works only for a non-rotating earth. When we consider the earth's spin, we have to consider the Coriolis force as well. Because of this force air cannot travel in one unhindered cell from the equator to pole or back. So there must be an odd number of cells together so that the air rising and falling in the adjacent cells is oriented in the proper direction. Considering the various observations of the Easterly and Westerly trade winds a 3 cell model best explains our atmospheric circulation. The location of the majority of earth's driest and arid regions are located in the areas underneath the descending branches of the Hadley circulation around 30 degrees latitude, which also supports the 3 cell model.

Also watch this video which gives a great explanation to all of your questions with the help of practical experiment and animations. Atmospheric Circulation Video

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    $\begingroup$ +1 thanks for your answer. I do understand the evidence supporting the 3 cell model, but what I really want to know is why physically, the air descends at around 30 degrees as opposed to how do we know that it does. The Coriolis effect as you mentioned does help explain why one cell is not possible, and but I am hoping the best answer might elaborate a bit more on this. $\endgroup$ – Kenshin Apr 23 '14 at 11:57
  • $\begingroup$ are you implying that the coriolis effect will have caused the winds to have curved to become parallel with the equator at 30 degrees latitude? This would be a neat explanation if true. (still want to know why it rises again at 60 latitude though) $\endgroup$ – Kenshin Apr 23 '14 at 12:01
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Air usually subsides at 30 degrees because at that latitude it is cool enough to allow it to sink.

Your question on why air rises at 60 degrees; this is obviously not because of convection since insulation is no longer really intense here, but instead due to frontal uplift. When warm air meets cooler air masses from the poles at roughly 60, it being less dense is forced to rise over the cool air masses.

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    $\begingroup$ Could you add some references? $\endgroup$ – L.B. Nov 2 '16 at 12:04

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