Atmospheric Thermodynamics

Atmospheric Thermodynamics

Atmospheric Thermodynamics

Atmospheric Thermodynamics


This comprehensive text is based on the authors' course notes, refined and updated over 15 years of teaching. The core of the text focuses on water and its transformations. Four chapters lay the foundation, from energy conservation to the ideal gas law, specific heat capacities, adiabatic processes, and entropy. An extensive chapter treats phase transitions of water, and a lengthy discussion of the van der Waals equation sets the stage for phase diagrams. Free energy is applied to determining the effect of dissolved substances, total pressure, and size on vapor pressure. The chapter on moist air and clouds discusses wet-bulb and virtual temperatures, isentropic ascent of saturated air, thermodynamic diagrams, stability, and cloud formation. The final chapter covers energy, momentum, and mass transfer, topics not usually considered part of thermodynamics. Measurements are included and experiments and observations are suggested, all with the aim of breathing life into equations. The authors are careful to recognize and unafraid to criticize the treatments of thermodynamics that have been unchanged for more than a hundred years. Atmospheric Thermodynamics contains over 200 exercises, mostly applications of basic principles to concrete problems. Often inspired by inquisitive students and colleagues, the exercises cover everything from automobiles and airplanes to baseball, wind turbines, and ground hogs. The authors weave history into the text by drawing on original writings rather than using textbook anecdotes, and molecular interpretations are given wherever possible. Assumptions and approximations are carefully laid out, derivations are detailed, and equations are interpreted physically and applied. No previous knowledge of thermodynamics or kinetic theory is assumed, although students are expected to be well-grounded in calculus, differential equations, vector analysis, and classical mechanics.


In The End of Education (p. 115) Neil Postman asserts that "We can improve the quality of teaching and learning overnight by getting rid of all textbooks. Most textbooks are badly written and, therefore, give the impression that they are boring. Most textbooks are also impersonally written. They . . . reveal no human personality." This will not endear Postman to the authors of textbooks, but, sad to say, he tells the truth, unpalatable though, it may be. When confronted with searing criticism like this, how will budding textbook authors react? Which path will they take, denial or introspection and reform?

We wrote this book inspired by the highly radical notion that textbooks ought to be rollicking good literature given that their intended readers are mostly young people, those through whom the juices of life flow strongest, and hence those most repelled by dry and lifeless textbook fodder. This notion is radical because the prevailing view of textbooks is that they should be as boring as possible. Written in the passive voice, humorless, without a whiff of controversy, textbooks are painstakingly purged of any human touch. They seem to be written with the aim of making science as uninteresting as possible so that their authors can then wring their hands over the lack of interest shown by young people in science.

We tried to make our writing as lively as possible by using active constructions and by not hiding the fact that we are humans first, scientists second. We do not shrink from criticizing fallacies no matter how hallowed by frequent repetition. We use humor, irony, and sarcasm, all the techniques of the writing trade, to keep our readers interested. After all, they are mostly young people who are bombarded continually by striking visual images and vivid entertainment in many forms. Today's audience for textbooks is the most distracted, the least attentive, in the history of literate humanity.

One of the most depressing features of textbooks, aside from their blandness, is their monotonous sameness. An original textbook is almost a contradiction in terms. Thermodynamics provides some prime examples. Every thermodynamics textbook finds it necessary to include a ponderous section belaboring exact and inexact differentials, which students do not understand and which, moreover, are unnecessary. the late, eminent mathematician Karl Menger almost half a century ago gently pointed out that differentials of any kind are unnecessary in teaching thermodynamics. To our knowledge, no subsequent author of a textbook on thermodynamics has paid any . . .

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