Journal cover Journal topic
Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
© Author(s) 2016. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Research article
05 Apr 2016
Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It has been under review for the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics (ACP). The revised manuscript was not accepted.
Quantifying the global atmospheric power budget
Anastassia M. Makarieva1,2, Victor G. Gorshkov1,2, Andrei V. Nefiodov1, Douglas Sheil3, Antonio Donato Nobre4, and Bai-Lian Li2 1Theoretical Physics Division, Petersburg Nuclear Physics Institute, 188300 Gatchina, St. Petersburg, Russia
2USDA-China MOST Joint Research Center for AgroEcology and Sustainability, University of California, Riverside 92521-0124, US
3Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Ås, Norway
4Centro de Ciência do Sistema Terrestre INPE, São José dos Campos SP 12227-010, Brazil
Abstract. Starting from the definition of mechanical work for an ideal gas, we present a novel derivation linking global wind power to measurable atmospheric parameters. The resulting expression distinguishes three components: the kinetic power associated with horizontal motion, the kinetic power associated with vertical motion and the gravitational power of precipitation. We discuss the caveats associated with integration of material derivatives in the presence of phase transitions and how these affect published analyses of global atmospheric power. Using the MERRA database for the years 2009–2015 (three hourly data on the 1.25° x 1.25° grid at 42 pressure levels) we estimate total atmospheric power at 3.1 W m−2 and kinetic power at 2.6 W m−2. The difference between the two (0.5 W m−2) is about half the independently estimated gravitational power of precipitation (1 W m−2). We explain how this discrepancy arises from the limited spatial and temporal resolution of the database. Our analysis suggests that the total atmospheric power calculated with a spatial resolution of the order of one kilometer (thus capturing the small moist convective eddies) should be around 5 W m−2. We discuss the physical constraints on global atmospheric power and how considering the dynamic effects of water vapor condensation offers new opportunities.
Citation: Makarieva, A. M., Gorshkov, V. G., Nefiodov, A. V., Sheil, D., Nobre, A. D., and Li, B.-L.: Quantifying the global atmospheric power budget, Atmos. Chem. Phys. Discuss.,, 2016.
Anastassia M. Makarieva et al.
Anastassia M. Makarieva et al.


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Publications Copernicus
Short summary
Why the Earth's atmospheric power – the rate at which solar energy is converted to wind – takes the value it does has long challenged theorists. We identify distinct terms in the atmospheric power budget and highlight their meaning and implications. We note problems with past estimates of this global power and generate our own for 2009–2015 using available gridded data. Spatial changes in atmospheric moisture, such as those caused by forest loss, will impact wind power, circulation and climate.
Why the Earth's atmospheric power – the rate at which solar energy is converted to wind – takes...