(WKBN) — Memorial Day is the unofficial start to the summer season and that means one thing: beach trips! However, if you are out at a beach this weekend, you might notice a major difference between the temperature of the beach and the water. How can there be such a difference when the two are in the same location? It is time to go back to high school and revisit chemistry 101.
The time it takes a substance to change temperature is directly related to its specific heat capacity. Specifically, the specific heat capacity refers to the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of 1 gram of a substance by 1 degree Celsius.
The higher the specific heat capacity of a substance, the more energy it takes to change the temperature and vice versa. This is the reason for the major difference in temperature between the beach and water during the early summer months.
The specific heat capacity of water is six times higher than that of sand, which means that sand heats and cools much more quickly than water. During the daytime, the sun causes the sand to heat up very quickly. You might even feel that the sand is extremely hot during the day. Conversely, the temperature of the lake changes very little during the day so the water will probably feel cold during the same time.
This is also the reason why it takes lake and ocean water some time to warm up during the warm season. For example, the temperature of Lake Erie from Cleveland to Ashtabula is still in the 50s despite the fact that the air temperature will be pushing 80°F today.
The difference in temperature between the lake/ocean and the shore is also the reason for the phenomenon known as the sea breeze. This is when a breeze develops off the lake or ocean that feels cooler relative to the air further inland.
The sea breeze occurs when the land heats up next to the body of water. The land becomes warmer than the water which results in rising air over land and sinking air over the ocean. Locally, an area of high pressure develops over the water while an area of low pressure develops over land.
Air always moves from high to low pressure, so the boundary between the cooler air over the water and the warmer air over land is pushed inward and the sea breeze develops. This sea breeze is often refreshing on hot summer days.
However, the boundary that forms can act as a front and cause thunderstorms to develop. The graphic below explains how the boundary provides lift causing thunderstorms overland in the summer.
The next time that you feel that cool breeze along the beach, you will know exactly how it forms.