Classification of air masses

Air masses are classified on the basis of source region, latitudinal position, and temperature and moisture properties. The two main categories of air masses are:

  Tropical or sub-tropical

  Polar or sub- polar

  • The sub division of these groups is made according to whether the source region is oceanic or continental.
  • They are also sub-divided according to what modifications the air masses experience as they move from their source regions.
  • To identify the different types of air masses, letter symbols are placed first in the designation.
  • Following that the source region is indicated: Tropical (T), Polar (P), Equatorial (E), Arctic (A) and Antarctic (AA).
  • ‘k’ (for the German kalt) for the air colder than the underlying surface or ‘w’ for air warmer than the surface.

On the basis of origin it can be maritime and continental.

Air mass


Source region


Maritime equatorial


Warm ocean in the equatorial zone

Unstable, warm, very moist

Maritime tropical


Warm ocean in the tropical zone

Warm, moist

Continental tropical


Subtropical deserts

Warm, dry

Maritime polar


Midlatitude oceans

Cool, moist(winter)

Continental Polar


Northern continental interiors

Cold, dry(winter)

Continental arctic and continental



Regions near north and south poles

Very cold, very dry, very stable

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