Back to Norway: An Essay

  • Kerry Emanuel
Part of the Meteorological Monographs book series (METEOR, volume 33, No. 55)


The advent of the polar front theory of cyclones in Norway early in the last century held that the development of fronts and air masses is central to understanding midlatitude weather phenomena. While work on fronts continues to this day, the concept of air masses has been largely forgotten, superseded by the idea of a continuum. The Norwegians placed equal emphasis on the thermodynamics of airmass formation and on the dynamical processes that moved air masses around; today, almost all the emphasis is on dynamics, with little published literature on diabatic processes acting on a large scale. In this essay, the author argues that a lack of understanding of large-scale diabatic processes leads to an incomplete picture of the atmosphere and contributes to systematic errors in medium- and long-range weather forecasts. At the same time, modern concepts centered around potential vorticity conservation and inversion lead one to a redefinition of the term “air mass” that may have some utility in conceptualizing atmospheric physics and in weather forecasting.


Rossby Wave Planetary Boundary Layer Potential Vorticity Radiative Cool Latent Heat Release 
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© American Meteorological Society 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Program in Atmospheres, Oceans, and ClimateMassachusetts Institute of TechnologyCambridgeUSA

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