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Wind explained  

Energy from moving air

Wind is caused by uneven heating of the earth's surface by the sun. Because the earth's surface is made up of different types of land and water, the earth absorbs the sun's heat at different rates. One example of this uneven heating is the daily wind cycle.

Image of how uneven heating of water and land causes wind. Land heats up faster than water. Warm air over the land rises. Cool air over the water moves in.

How uneven heating of water and land causes wind

Source: Adapted from National Energy Education Development Project (public domain)

The daily wind cycle

During the day, air above land heats up faster than air above water. Warm air above land expands and rises, and heavier, cooler air rushes in to take its place, creating wind. At night, the winds are reversed because air cools more rapidly over land than it does over water.

In the same way, the atmospheric winds that circle the earth are created because the land near the earth's equator is hotter than the land near the North Pole and the South Pole.

Wind energy for electricity generation

Today, wind energy is mainly used to generate electricity. Water-pumping windmills were once used throughout the United States, and some still operate on farms and ranches, mainly to supply water for livestock.

Last reviewed: December 27, 2023.