Types of Air Masses: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Mary Beth Burns

Mary Beth has taught 1st, 4th and 5th grade and has a specialist degree in Educational Leadership. She is currently an assistant principal.

Did you know that there are six different types of air masses that hover over different parts of the world? Come and learn about what air masses are and how to classify them, and discover the characteristics of different types of air masses.

What Are Air Masses?

Did you know that all air is not the same? Yes, it is always invisible. Yes, it is always made of oxygen, nitrogen and other gases. However, it is not always the same temperature, nor does it always have the same level of moisture or humidity. These different types of air are known as air masses.

Imagine the planet covered in blankets. Each blanket horizontally covers different parts of the Earth. Okay, so the planet isn't actually covered in blankets, but it is covered in air masses. Just like air masses, blankets are not the same. Some are thick and wooly, while others are light and fluffy. You will feel differently depending on which kind of blanket you are under, just like you will feel differently depending on which type of air mass you are under.

Land or Water?

The first way to categorize a type of air mass is to see what it is located over. Is it located over land or is it located over the sea? Air masses that are over land are called continental air masses because they are over continents. They tend to be on the drier side. Air masses that are over the ocean are called maritime ('mar' is actually a prefix for anything water, like marine biology). These air masses are moister, which makes sense because they are over water.

C for continental and M for maritime

Source Region

Now it gets a little more complicated than land or water. Another determining factor when categorizing an air mass is how far the land or water over which the air mass is hovering is from the equator. Scientists have grouped these into three different places: arctic, polar and tropical. Arctic, as you might guess, are the coldest air masses. They are located over the North and South poles. Polar air masses are also cold, but not as cold as the Arctic air masses. Tropical air masses are the warmest, and are located in the areas that are about 25 degrees north or south of the equator.

A for arctic, P for polar and T for tropical

The Six Types

Okay, so now that you know the terms for land or water, as well as the different source regions, you have enough information to determine the six types of air masses. These are: continental arctic (cA), maritime arctic (mA), continental polar (cP), maritime polar (mP), continental tropical (cT), and maritime tropical (mT). Easy enough, huh?

The six different types

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