Thermal low

Thermal low

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Thermal lows, or heat lows, are non-frontal
Weather front
A weather front is a boundary separating two masses of air of different densities, and is the principal cause of meteorological phenomena. In surface weather analyses, fronts are depicted using various colored lines and symbols, depending on the type of front...

 low-pressure areas that occur over the continents in the subtropics such as near the Sonoran Desert
Sonoran Desert
The Sonoran Desert is a North American desert which straddles part of the United States-Mexico border and covers large parts of the U.S. states of Arizona and California and the northwest Mexican states of Sonora, Baja California, and Baja California Sur. It is one of the largest and hottest...

, the Mexican plateau
Mexican Plateau
The Central Mexican Plateau, also known as the Mexican Altiplano or Altiplanicie Mexicana, is a large arid-to-semiarid plateau that occupies much of northern and central Mexico...

, Sahara
The Sahara is the world's second largest desert, after Antarctica. At over , it covers most of Northern Africa, making it almost as large as Europe or the United States. The Sahara stretches from the Red Sea, including parts of the Mediterranean coasts, to the outskirts of the Atlantic Ocean...

, South America
South America
South America is a continent situated in the Western Hemisphere, mostly in the Southern Hemisphere, with a relatively small portion in the Northern Hemisphere. The continent is also considered a subcontinent of the Americas. It is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean and on the north and east...

 over northwest Argentina
Argentina , officially the Argentine Republic , is the second largest country in South America by land area, after Brazil. It is constituted as a federation of 23 provinces and an autonomous city, Buenos Aires...

, Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

, the Iberian peninsula
Iberian Peninsula
The Iberian Peninsula , sometimes called Iberia, is located in the extreme southwest of Europe and includes the modern-day sovereign states of Spain, Portugal and Andorra, as well as the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar...

, and Tibetan plateau
Tibetan Plateau
The Tibetan Plateau , also known as the Qinghai–Tibetan Plateau is a vast, elevated plateau in Central Asia covering most of the Tibet Autonomous Region and Qinghai, in addition to smaller portions of western Sichuan, southwestern Gansu, and northern Yunnan in Western China and Ladakh in...

 during the warm season as the result of intense heating when compared to their surrounding environments. Over land, intense, rapid solar heating of the lower layers of air creates hot air, which is less dense than surrounding cooler air. This, combined with the rising of the hot air, results in the formation of a low pressure area. Elevated areas can enhance the strength of the thermal low as they warm more quickly than the atmosphere which surrounds them at the same altitude. Over the water, thermal lows form during the winter when the air overlying the water bodies is colder than the warmer water. Thermal lows tend to have weak circulations, and can extend to 3100 metres (10,170.6 ft) in height. Thermal lows over the western and southern portions of North America, northern Africa, and southeast Asia are strong enough to lead to summer monsoon
Monsoon is traditionally defined as a seasonal reversing wind accompanied by corresponding changes in precipitation, but is now used to describe seasonal changes in atmospheric circulation and precipitation associated with the asymmetric heating of land and sea...

 conditions. Development of thermal lows inland of the coastline lead to the development of sea breeze
Sea breeze
A sea-breeze is a wind from the sea that develops over land near coasts. It is formed by increasing temperature differences between the land and water; these create a pressure minimum over the land due to its relative warmth, and forces higher pressure, cooler air from the sea to move inland...

s. Sea breezes combined with rugged topography near the coast can encourage poor air quality.


In deserts, lack of ground and plant moisture that would normally provide evaporative cooling can lead to intense, rapid solar heating of the lower layers of air. The hot air is less dense than surrounding cooler air. This, combined with the rising of the hot air, results in a low pressure area called a thermal low. Over elevated surfaces, heating of the ground exceeds the heating of the surrounding air at the same altitude above sea level
Sea level
Mean sea level is a measure of the average height of the ocean's surface ; used as a standard in reckoning land elevation...

, which creates an associated heat low over the terrain and enhances any thermal lows which would have otherwise existed. During the cold season, (winter
Winter is the coldest season of the year in temperate climates, between autumn and spring. At the winter solstice, the days are shortest and the nights are longest, with days lengthening as the season progresses after the solstice.-Meteorology:...

), warm water bodies such as the Great Lakes
Great Lakes
The Great Lakes are a collection of freshwater lakes located in northeastern North America, on the Canada – United States border. Consisting of Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario, they form the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth by total surface, coming in second by volume...

 can induce a thermal low. Thermal lows which develop near sea level can build in height during the warm season, or summer
Summer is the warmest of the four temperate seasons, between spring and autumn. At the summer solstice, the days are longest and the nights are shortest, with day-length decreasing as the season progresses after the solstice...

, to the elevation of the 700 hPa pressure surface, which lies near 3100 metres (10,170.6 ft) above sea level. Heat lows normally are stationary and have a weak cyclonic circulation. As they are strongest at the surface and warm near their center, and weaker aloft where the air is more stable, the thermal low is considered warm core. The strongest versions of these features globally are over Arabia, the northern portion of the Indian subcontinent
Indian subcontinent
The Indian subcontinent, also Indian Subcontinent, Indo-Pak Subcontinent or South Asian Subcontinent is a region of the Asian continent on the Indian tectonic plate from the Hindu Kush or Hindu Koh, Himalayas and including the Kuen Lun and Karakoram ranges, forming a land mass which extends...

, Arizona
Arizona ; is a state located in the southwestern region of the United States. It is also part of the western United States and the mountain west. The capital and largest city is Phoenix...

, Mexican plateau
Mexican Plateau
The Central Mexican Plateau, also known as the Mexican Altiplano or Altiplanicie Mexicana, is a large arid-to-semiarid plateau that occupies much of northern and central Mexico...

, northwest Argentina
Argentina , officially the Argentine Republic , is the second largest country in South America by land area, after Brazil. It is constituted as a federation of 23 provinces and an autonomous city, Buenos Aires...

, southwestern Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

,, Australia, and northern Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

. The formation of the heat low over northern Africa leads to a low-level westerly jet stream
Jet stream
Jet streams are fast flowing, narrow air currents found in the atmospheres of some planets, including Earth. The main jet streams are located near the tropopause, the transition between the troposphere and the stratosphere . The major jet streams on Earth are westerly winds...

 from June into October.

Role in the monsoon regime

Monsoons are caused by the larger amplitude of the seasonal cycle of land temperature compared to that of nearby oceans. This differential warming happens because heat in the ocean is mixed vertically through a "mixed layer" that may be fifty meters deep, through the action of wind and buoyancy-generated turbulence
In fluid dynamics, turbulence or turbulent flow is a flow regime characterized by chaotic and stochastic property changes. This includes low momentum diffusion, high momentum convection, and rapid variation of pressure and velocity in space and time...

, whereas the land surface conducts heat slowly, with the seasonal signal penetrating perhaps a meter or so. Additionally, the specific heat capacity of liquid water is significantly higher than that of most materials that make up land. Together, these factors mean that the heat capacity of the layer participating in the seasonal cycle is much larger over the oceans than over land, with the consequence that the air over the land warms faster and reaches a higher temperature than the air over the ocean. The hot air over the land tends to rise, creating an area of low pressure. This creates a steady wind blowing toward the land, bringing the moist near-surface air over the oceans with it. Similar rainfall
Precipitation (meteorology)
In meteorology, precipitation In meteorology, precipitation In meteorology, precipitation (also known as one of the classes of hydrometeors, which are atmospheric water phenomena is any product of the condensation of atmospheric water vapor that falls under gravity. The main forms of precipitation...

 is caused by the moist ocean air being lifted upwards by mountains, surface heating, convergence at the surface, divergence aloft, or from storm-produced outflows at the surface. However the lifting occurs, the air cools due expansion in lower pressure, which in turn produces condensation
Condensation is the change of the physical state of matter from gaseous phase into liquid phase, and is the reverse of vaporization. When the transition happens from the gaseous phase into the solid phase directly, the change is called deposition....


In winter, the land cools off quickly, but the ocean keeps the heat longer due to its higher specific heat. The hot air over the ocean rises, creating a low pressure area and a breeze from land to ocean while a large area of drying high pressure is formed over the land, increased by wintertime cooling. Monsoons are similar to sea and land breezes, a term usually referring to the localized, diurnal (daily) cycle of circulation near coastlines everywhere, but they are much larger in scale, stronger and seasonal.

Role in sea breeze formation

The sea
An ocean is a major body of saline water, and a principal component of the hydrosphere. Approximately 71% of the Earth's surface is covered by ocean, a continuous body of water that is customarily divided into several principal oceans and smaller seas.More than half of this area is over 3,000...

 is warmed by the sun to a greater depth than the land due to its greater specific heat. The sea therefore has a greater capacity for absorbing heat than the land, so the surface of the sea warms up more slowly than the land's surface. As the temperature of the surface of the land
A landform or physical feature in the earth sciences and geology sub-fields, comprises a geomorphological unit, and is largely defined by its surface form and location in the landscape, as part of the terrain, and as such, is typically an element of topography...

 rises, the land heats the air above it. The warm air is less dense and so it rises. This rising air over the land lowers the sea level pressure by about 0.2%. The cooler air above the sea, now with higher sea level pressure, flows towards the land into the lower pressure, creating a cooler breeze near the coast. The strength of the sea breeze is directly proportional to the temperature difference between the land and the sea. If the environmental wind field is greater than 8 knots (15.7 km/h) and opposing the direction of a possible sea breeze, the sea breeze is not likely to develop.

Role in air pollution

In areas where it is hilly or mountainous near the coastline, thermally-forced sea breezes combined with wind circulations up the sides of the mountains can encourage the production of chemicals which can lead to the development of smog
Smog is a type of air pollution; the word "smog" is a portmanteau of smoke and fog. Modern smog is a type of air pollution derived from vehicular emission from internal combustion engines and industrial fumes that react in the atmosphere with sunlight to form secondary pollutants that also combine...

. Pollution has been tracked into the mid-levels of the troposphere
The troposphere is the lowest portion of Earth's atmosphere. It contains approximately 80% of the atmosphere's mass and 99% of its water vapor and aerosols....

 in the form of ozone
Ozone , or trioxygen, is a triatomic molecule, consisting of three oxygen atoms. It is an allotrope of oxygen that is much less stable than the diatomic allotrope...

, which is concentrated over the circulation of the thermal low as well as adjacent oceanic areas.