Earth’s wind patterns

Earth's wind systems

When it comes to predicting the weather, it helps to have as much information available as possible. Meteorologist have created some very sophisticated mathematical models that can predict the weather more accurately than ever before, yet without the fundamental data concerning what the weather is doing now, these models are useless.

The wind forms the basis of atmospheric circulation, which governs the weather and climate.

Some areas of Earth receive more heat from the Sun than other areas. This leads to differences in air temperature, density and pressure, which in turn, cause the air to move – creating wind.

The movement of air constitutes the general circulation of the atmosphere, transporting heat away from equatorial regions towards the poles, and returning cooler air to the tropics.

Rising warm air is associated with areas of low surface-pressure called cyclones, while areas of high surface-pressure, known as anticyclones, are associated with subsiding air. These pressure differences are balanced by air motion – wind.

Since Earth rotates and is spherical, winds to not move directly from high to low pressure areas. The greater the difference in air pressure between two regions, the stronger the wind will be. The wind continues to blow until the pressure difference changes.

The Coriolis force explains why winds generally blow perpendicular to the direction of the pressure difference.

The Coriolis force acts at right angles to the direction of motion, so as to cause deflection to the right in the Northern Hemisphere and to the left in the Southern Hemisphere. The force increases from zero at the equator to a maximum at the poles. Winds are therefore deflected relatively little at low latitudes and at higher latitudes the degree of deflection is much larger.

In order to improve numerical weather prediction so that we can benefit from better weather forecasting, there is an urgent need for detailed near-realtime observations of global wind-fields at all scales. This is something meteorologists have needed for some time now.

ESA's wind mission

Aeolus has been developed to fulfil this need. The mission will generate about a 100 wind profiles an hour, which will give meteorologists better information with which to predict the weather.

Aeolus will be able to provide wind profiles for the entire planet, including remote areas lacking ground-based weather stations.

The Aeolus mission will be the first space mission to acquire profiles of the wind on a global scale and pave the way for future operational wind missions.

Last update: 17 January 2012

Copyright 2000 - 2018 © European Space Agency. All rights reserved.