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The Sun and Evaporation

The Sun and Evaporation

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What does the sun have to do with evaporation?

Derek W.


Great question. The sun has everything to do with evaporation, well not everything, but a lot. Evaporation is water that is evaporating or becoming a gas. You can have water going from actual water to a gas (water vapor) or you can have ice going to the gas phase too, that's called sublimation. That's how those ice cubes disappear in your freezer! Just put some ice in a tray and leave them in there for a few weeks, see if they get smaller! Where does the ice go??? It went directly from the ice phase to the gas phase, the gas being water vapor. It didn't go into the liquid phase at all!

If we remember how the water cycle works, we can recall that the sun heats up the water on the surface of the earth. When the water is heated, it evaporates! This water vapor goes into the atmosphere, cools, condenses and then forms clouds. So the sun has a lot do with the heating of the water which then evaporates.

You could heat up water on a stove and see the steam, pretending that the burner is the sun, it's the same process. But the steam on the boiling water isn't being cooled enough to have a lot of condensation, unless you put the lid on, then you see those drops of water on the lid, that's your cloud essentially.

If we had no sunshine how would we evaporate the water at the earth? Would there even be water? Would it be so cold it would be ice everywhere? Well it would be dark, that's that the first graders usually tell us when we visit them and ask what it would be like without sun. There might not even be any weather at all!

The sun heats up the water which then evaporates. The molecules in water get very excited when you heat them up, some of them escape from the liquid and turn into the vapor. Some links on the right will be helpful to learn more about all this.

Answered by KSL Meteorologist Dina Freedman.

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