Fundamentals of Atmospheric Science




The study of kinematics provides a physical and quantitative description of our atmospheric motion, while the study of dynamics provides the physical and quantitative cause-and-effect for this motion. This lesson discusses kinematics.

Global composite infrared satellite image with swirling white clouds
Global composite infrared satellite image for 13 June 2015. The air motion is indicated by the infrared radiation from clouds, which were formed from vertical air motion resulting in cooling.

When we look at weather in motion from a satellite, we see very complicated swirls and stretching that evolve over time. We can see the same types of motions on a much smaller scale by observing swirling leaves. These complex motions can be ascribed to combinations of just five different types of atmospheric motion. Quantifying these motions with mathematics, without assigning a cause to the motion, is the focus of this lesson on kinematics.

Learning Objectives

By the end of this lesson, you should be able to:

  • identify regions of convergence, divergence, positive vorticity, and negative vorticity on a weather map
  • calculate the strength of the different flow types from observations
  • relate vertical motion to horizontal convergence and divergence


If you have any questions, please post them to the Course Questions discussion forum. I will check that discussion forum daily to respond. While you are there, feel free to post your own responses if you, too, are able to help out a classmate.