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A First Course in Atmospheric Thermodynamics
Article in Eos Transactions American Geophysical Union · January 2009
DOI: 10.1029/2009EO330005
1 author:
Phillip Chilson
Ronin Institute
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Eos, Vol. 90, No. 33, 18 August 2009
spatiotemporal climate dynamics, ideally
leading to more widespread forward modeling of proxies.
A final theme of the workshop was the
quantification of potential model- proxy
agreements (and disagreements). The
participants felt the need for more widespread use of probabilistic approaches in
the paleosciences. The workshop participants also agreed on the urgent need for
the establishment of a long- term research
consortium involving the four communities brought together during the workshop.
This report was prepared with important input by Jan Esper and Eduardo Zorita,
coconveners of the workshop.
A First Course in Atmospheric Thermodynamics
Grant W. Petty
Sundog; 2008; xiv + 338 pp.; ISBN 978- 0-9729033-2-5; $48.
PAGE 284
It is not uncommon to find textbooks that
have been written with the intention of catering to a broad spectrum of readers. Often,
though not always, the result is a book
appropriate for neither advanced nor beginning students. However, Grant Petty had a
very specific target audience in mind when
he wrote A First Course in Atmospheric Thermodynamics. The book is clearly gauged for
atmospheric science and meteorology students who have had introductory courses
in physics and calculus but who have not
necessarily established a firm foundation in
analytic problem solving.
The book stands out among other textbooks devoted to this topic. Every aspect of
A First Course seems to have been tailored
in such a way as to best serve the interests
of the student. That is, Petty does not simply adopt a “fire hose” approach geared
toward packing in as much material as possible, nor does he resort to qualitative arguments when a quantitative explanation is
needed. Instead, the author has made a conscious decision to concentrate primarily on
the most relevant concepts required to build
a solid foundation in atmospheric thermodynamics. I definitely support this approach,
which gives students the opportunity to
consolidate their understanding of the fundamentals and to become less fixated on
recipe- style problem solving.
Similar to other textbooks on the topic,
the first chapter presents an overview
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of the composition and structure of the
Earth’s atmosphere. Unlike other textbooks, however, is the inclusion of an “in
practice” section at the end of many chapters. This section is meant to ground the
material in the chapter in “real- world”
applications. In the context of chapter 1,
this grounding is accomplished by the
author discussing in situ and remote sensor observations of pressure, temperature,
and humidity. The discussion focuses on
balloon- borne measurements and introduces the basic layout of the skew T – log p
thermo dynamic diagram, which is widely
used to plot radiosonde and rawinsonde
data and examine the state of the atmosphere. In total, six of the book’s eight
chapters conclude with an “in practice”
section appropriate to the material that
has just been covered.
Subsequent chapters focus on thermodynamic systems and variables, the physical
properties of air, atmospheric pressure, the
first law of thermodynamics, the second law
of thermodynamics, moist processes, and
atmospheric stability.
One may be surprised, or perhaps disappointed, by the author’s cursory treatment of the second law. Indeed, the chapter dedicated to this topic is the shortest in
the book and spans only six pages. However, Petty maintains (on page xiii of the
preface) that “relatively few undergraduate
meteorology majors are ready to ponder
the meaning of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, or the theoretical properties
of heat engines and refrigeration cycles.”
—VALERIE TROUET, Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL, Birmensdorf, Switzerland; E-mail: trouet@
wsl.ch; ANDY BAKER, University of Birmingham,
Birmingham, UK
Therefore, he provides only an overview of
the second law and some of its more relevant consequences, such as the introduction of entropy as a thermodynamic state
variable and applications to the concept of
potential temperature. Petty assumes that
students needing to know more about the
second law will independently pursue the
topic or study it in more detail in a future
course. I do not find myself at odds with
this position, although when I teach atmospheric thermodynamics from this book
I find it helpful to provide students with
supplemental material.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that the
book contains a well- organized appendix
consisting of six parts. The two parts that I
find particularly useful for students (assuming they take advantage of these sections)
are those covering physical problem solving and a review of relevant mathematical concepts. Many students in the early
stages of their meteorology or atmospheric
studies have not yet developed the necessary analytic skills needed to solve complex problems. These sections are designed
to help students systematically approach
such problems and point them toward the
mathematical tools needed to obtain a solution. Other materials included in the appendix are lists of recommended reading and
online resources, a compilation of physical
dimensions and units, and various tables
and charts.
In summary, I am impressed with A
First Course in Atmospheric Thermodynamics. Also, I have heard many positive comments about the book from students who have taken my course. If you
are a student starting out in your studies of meteorology, someone needing an
introduction to atmospheric thermodynamics, or a professor in search of a textbook for a physical meteorology course,
you should consider reading and buying
this book.
—PHILLIP CHILSON, School of Meteorology, University of Oklahoma, Norman; E-mail: chilson@ou.edu