Teach the Earth > Climate Change > Visualizations > Energy Balance

Energy Balance

Compiled by Monica Bruckner at SERC.

This section provides access to a spectrum of visualizations and supporting material that can be used effectively to teach students about the Earth's energy balance. Visualizations include simple animations, GIS-based maps, videos, as well as numerous illustrations and photos.

Click here to browse the complete set of Visualization Collections.


NASA Ice Albedo Movie (more info) With an albedo of up to 80 percent or more, snow-covered terrain reflects most of the earth's incoming solar radiation back into space, cooling the lower atmosphere. When snow cover melts, the albedo drops suddenly to less than about 30 percent, allowing the ground to absorb more solar radiation, heating the earth's surface and lower atmosphere. This short animation demonstrates the effect of melting ice on albedo.

NASA Cloud Albedo Animation (more info) Clouds greatly affect the Earth's solar energy balance. This animation shows how they deflect a portion of solar energy influx from reaching our planet's surface and how they insulate to prevent a total loss of thermal radiance out into space.

Long and Short Wave Radiation

Net Radiation and Vegetation NDVI (more info) This site allows you to combine the NDVI vegetation index with Net Solar Radiation values. The Normalized Difference Vegetation Index, or NDVI, is an index of green leaf density. The higher the value, the more luxuriant the vegetation. This is but one of many animated datasets that can be combined to introduce correlations and interactions between radiant energy and the biosphere.

General Resources/Other

Global Climate Animations (more info) Flash animations and animated .gif files that show the climatology of the seasonal cycle for the time period 1959-1997 for variables including the global energy balance, global water balance, atmospheric circulation and winds, and global temperature.

Air Temperature (more info) Seasonal temperature variations can be explained in terms of the latitudinal and seasonal variations in the surface energy balance. The pattern of temperatures is a function of net short-wave radiation, net long-wave radiation, sensible heat flux, latent heat flux, and change in heat storage. Note that the highest temperatures occur not at the equator landmasses, where it is often cloudy, but at 20 degrees north and south of the equator along zones of semi-permanent high pressure zones where skies are generally clear. The animation can be paused and rewound to emphasize important points.

Latent Heat Flux (more info) This animation is available in an animated GIF or Flash formats and shows monthly variations in energy in the form of latent heat. This animation shows the energy absorbed due to evaporation. Interesting patterns to observe are higher values over the Gulf Stream and lower values in upwelling areas, like off the coasts of Labrador and Peru. In the Flash format, the animation can easily be rewound or paused to stress important points.

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