|MadSci Network: Earth Sciences|
OK Sarah, I'll try to answer, and I'll try to keep it simple. Temperature, wind speed, and humidity can all affect evaporation a lot. They affect it in different ways. No one of these factors is always stronger than another. There will be circumstances where any one of the three could be most important. Probably, as a general rule, the order you have got them in is about right though. If you have water in a half full closed bottle, some of that water will evaporate, and there will be water vapour in the air above the liquid level in the bottle. Liquid water will keep turning to vapour until it reaches the saturation vapour pressure, and then no more will. How much water vapour the air can hold depends very much on temperature. At -20 degrees C = -4 degrees F, 0.10% of the air maximum can be water vapour At 0 degrees C = 32 degrees F, 0.6% maximum can be water vapour At 20 degrees C = 68 degrees F, 2.4% maximum can be water vapour At 40 degrees C = 104 degrees F, 7% maximum can be water vapour So hot air can hold a lot more water vapour than cold air can. But a lake or an ocean or a puddle out in the open air is not like a closed bottle, and that is where the other two factors come in. Humidity is simply a measure of how the amount of water vapour that an air parcel is actually holding compares with the maximum that it could hold. So, for example, if air at 68 degrees F contained 1.2% water vapour, and the most it could hold was 2.4%, we would say the humidity was just half, or 50% humidity. Humidity is a funny measure, because on a really cold morning at -4 deg F, with 100% humidity, the air is really very dry compared with a 104 deg F afternoon, with 20% humidity. 100% of 0.1% = 0.1%; 20% of 7% = 1.4%, or 14 times as much water vapour content! When air gets close to 100% humidity it is no longer able to allow surface water to evaporate into it any more, so very high humidity is a strong factor preventing evaporation. When air is very still, evaporation produces a layer of very humid air (100% humidity) just above the surface of a lake or puddle, and this can slow or stop further evaporation. The official "humidity" might be quite low but there is this small area of high humidity just over the lake or puddle. If there is a stiff breeze, that layer will keep getting swept away and replaced with drier air. That can help evaporation a lot. If the wind gets even stronger, and starts to make ripples and waves, that also speeds up evaporation a lot. When water evaporates, it chills, and if the water is still, a cold layer can form on the surface which slows further evaporation. A bit of wind helps circulation currents to form in the water as well, and keeps the warmer water coming to the top. So that is how the three factors work. I hope you can work out the rest from there.
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