EarthLabs > Climate and the Biosphere > Lab 2: Climate and Earth's Energy Balance

Climate and Earth's Energy Balance

Introduction

The sun rises every morning, lights our day, drives the processes of weather, gives plants the fuel to grow, moves ocean currents, and gives us warmth; in fact, one could say that Earth is solar powered. As you saw in the previous lab, annual seasonal changes in weather control the cycles of growth in plants such as trees. These cycles of change are dramatic and yet subtle, so much so that we often go about our busy lives without even noticing them. In some parts of the world, specifically at the higher latitudes, such as in New England, the amount of sunlight can be very seasonal, changing noticeably from summer to winter. In other places, closer to the equator, it shines with almost the same intensity every day of the year. Have you ever stopped to think how important the sun's energy is to your daily life?

The primary drivers of climate are: incoming solar radiation, Earth's revolution and rotation, the surface features of the land, and the composition of the atmosphere. In this lab, you'll explore two of these controls, the incoming solar radiation and the composition of the atmosphere. You will view interactive graphics that show the distribution of Earth's energy budget and you will complete several labs that demonstrate how energy is trapped by atmospheric greenhouse gases and used to drive the water cycle. You'll develop a sense of how energy comes from the sun, what processes it drives, and how it is returned to space, keeping Earth's energy budget constantly changing, but balanced.


After completing this investigation, you should be able to:

Keeping Track of What You Learn

In these pages, you'll find three kinds of questions. Your teacher will let you know which questions you should answer and turn in.

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