The ThetaW map - updated every 6 hours - shows the modelled wet bulb potential temperature at the 850hPa level.
The theta w (θw) areas are encircled by isotherms - lines connecting locations with equal wet bulb potential temperature.
When an air parcel, starting from a certain pressure level, is lifted dry adiabatically until
saturation and subsequently is brought to a level of 1000 hPa along a saturated adiabat it
reaches what is called the saturated potential wet-bulb temperature: θw.
As long as an air parcel undergoes an adiabatisch process, be it either dry or saturated, and
in both descending and ascending motions θw does not change. Even when precipitation is
evaporating adiabatically θw does not change, therefore θw is "conservative".
An air mass is defined as a quantity of air with a horizontal extent of several hundred or
thousand kilometres and a thickness of several kilometres, which is homogeneous in thermal
characteristics. Such an air mass may form when air has been over an extensive and
homogeneous part of the Earth's surface during a considerable amount of time. This is the
so-called source area. In due time, by means of radiative exchange processes and contact
with the Earth's surface, an equilibrium develops which is evident from the fact that θw has
approximately the same value in the entire air mass both horizontally and vertically, Hence θw
can be used to characterise an air mass, with both sensible and latent heat are accounted
Depending on possible source areas several main air mass types can be distinguished: polar
air (P), midlatitude air (ML) and (sub)tropical air (T). Also, but these are less important arctic
air (A) and equatorial air (E). These five main types can be subdivided in continental air (c)
and maritime air (m).
Table 1: Characteristic values for θw at 850 hPa (in °C) for various air masses.
|cA < 7
||mA < 9
||cA < -5
||mA < -7
|cP 7 - 12
||mP 6 - 12
||CP -6 – 2
||mP -3 - 5
|CML 11 – 16
||mML 11 - 16
||CML 1 – 8
||mML 3 - 9
|cT 15 - 19
||mT 14 - 19
||CT 8 – 14
||mT 8 - 16
|cE > 17
||mE > 18
||cE > 14
||mE > 16
If the θw distribution is considered on a pressure surface, preferably 850 hPa, then extensive
areas with a small or no gradient can be observed. These areas of homogeneous θw values
may be associated with air masses. Often various homogeneous areas are separated from
one another by relatively narrow transformation zones displaying a strong gradient. Here
frontal zones intersect with the pressure surface. Generally speaking a surface front is
located where at 850 hPa the 'warm boundary' of the zone with the large θw gradient is
present.(Source: Wageningen University