What do we breathe? What helps pollinate plants? What moves the clouds? What helps create waves? Air is the answer to each of these questions. Air is necessary to life on Earth and the Sun plays a big role in moving air.
Oxygen is the " air " that we breathe. The interaction between plants and the Sun causes the chemical reaction of photosynthesis. Photosynthesis provides oxygen for animals and humans to breathe.
Winds are caused by the Sun. When the Sun warms up the oceans they warm the air around them causing the air to get stirred up. This creates wind.
When the ocean is stirred by the ocean currents and wind it mixes the oceans water. This process keeps the Earth's water and air fresh and prevents it from stagnating.
Air movements have patterns called doldrums. There are 4 major patterns. There are the northern and southern trade winds, and the northern and southern westerlies. When warm air and cold air meet it creates a weather front called the polar front. In the Northern Hemisphere there is an area of strong winds near the south end of the polar front. Scientists call this area the jet stream. At times the jet stream may blow at 300 miles per hour. Pilots can take advantage of this extra push of air by flying in the jet stream. It reduces the time required to get to their destination.
There is also another jet stream called the Gulf Stream. It begins between Mexico and the western tip of Cuba. As water around these two areas heats up it warms the air. This air travels around the southern end of Florida and then flows north along the eastern coastline of the United States to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. At Cape Hatteras the Gulf Stream turns northeast and crosses the Atlantic. This warm water also warms the air around it causing the air to warm up and the weather to change.
Waves are caused by wind, so are indirectly caused by the Sun. As wind blows across a large body of calm water, it makes small ripples which eventually " grow " into large waves. The size of a wave depends on how hard the wind is blowing.
Few people know that the moon and Sun also cause air tides. Just as the moon and Sun affect the water of the oceans, they also affect the air of the Earth's atmosphere. Gravitational attraction causes large bulges of "air tides" just like water tides.
Air tides are also called lunar winds. Even though they are too slight to be felt or seen, lunar winds cause dramatic variations in weather conditions.
©Copyright 1998 Elizabeth
Beckett, Holly Bernitt, and Vishwa Chandra.