Absolute humidity is the actual amount of the water vapor in a mixture of air and water. It is expressed either in grams per cubic meter or pounds per cubic foot. The amount of water vapor that can be present in the air is dependent upon the temperature and pressure. The higher the temperatures, the more water vapor the air is capable of holding, assuming constant pressure. When air has all the water vapor it can hold at the prevailing temperature and pressure, it is said to be saturated.
Relative humidity is the ratio of the amount of water vapor actually present in the atmosphere to the amount that would be present if the air were saturated at the prevailing temperature and pressure. This ratio is usually multiplied by 100 and expressed as a percentage. Suppose, for example, that a weather report includes the information that the temperature is 75°F and the relative humidity is 56 percent. This indicates that the air holds 56 percent of the water vapor required to saturate it at 75°F. If the temperature drops and the absolute humidity remains constant, the relative humidity will increase. This is because less water vapor is required to saturate the air at the lower temperature.
The dew point is the temperature to which humid air must be cooled at constant pressure to become saturated. If the temperature drops below the dew point, condensation occurs. People who wear eyeglasses have experience going from cold outside air into a warm room and having moisture collect quickly on their glasses. This happens because the glasses were below the dew point temperature of the air in the room. The air immediately in contact with the glasses was cooled below its dew point temperature, and some of the water vapor was condensed out. This principle is applied in determining the dew point. A vessel is cooled until water vapor begins to condense on its surface. The temperature at which this occurs is the dew point.
Vapor pressure is the portion of atmospheric pressure that is exerted by the moisture in the air (expressed in tenths of an inch of mercury). The dew point for a given condition depends on the amount of water pressure present; thus, a direct relationship exists between the vapor pressure and the dew point.
If the performance of an aircraft is computed, either through flight tests or wind tunnel tests, some standard reference condition must be determined first in order to compare results with those of similar tests. The conditions in the atmosphere vary continuously, and it is generally not possible to obtain exactly the same set of conditions on two different days or even on two successive flights. For this reason, a set group of standards must be used as a point of reference. The set of standard conditions presently used in the United States is known as the U.S.
The standard atmosphere approximates the average conditions existing at 40° latitude, and is determined on the basis of the following assumptions. The standard sea level conditions are:
Pressure at 0 altitude (P0) = 29.92 "Hg
The U.S. Standard Atmosphere is in agreement with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Standard Atmosphere over their common altitude range. The ICAO Standard Atmosphere has been adopted as standard by most of the principal nations of the world.
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