Entropy budget of an atmosphere in radiative-convective equilibrium. Part I: Maximum work and frictional dissipation

Olivier Pauluis, Isaac M. Held

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The entropy budget of an atmosphere in radiative-convective equilibrium is analyzed here. The differential heating of the atmosphere, resulting from surface heat fluxes and tropospheric radiative cooling, corresponds to a net entropy sink. In statistical equilibrium, this entropy sink is balanced by the entropy production due to various irreversible processes such as frictional dissipation, diffusion of heat, diffusion of water vapor, and irreversible phase changes. Determining the relative contribution of each individual irreversible process to the entropy budget can provide important information on the behavior of convection. The entropy budget of numerical simulations with a cloud ensemble model is discussed. In these simulations, it is found that the dominant irreversible entropy source is associated with irreversible phase changes and diffusion of water vapor. In addition, a large fraction of the frictional dissipation results from falling precipitation, and turbulent dissipation accounts for only a small fraction of the entropy production. This behavior is directly related to the fact that the convective heat transport is mostly due to the latent heat transport. In such cases, moist convection acts more as an atmospheric dehumidifier than as a heat engine. The amount of work available to accelerate convective updrafts and downdrafts is much smaller than predicted by studies that assume that moist convection behaves mostly as a perfect heat engine.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)125-139
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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