Net Radiation and Temperature

Allison Dunn
Author Profile


This assignment helps students think about how net radiation affects surface temperature.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications



I use this assignment in an introductory meteorology course, but it would also be appropriate for a course in physical geography.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students must understand how the earth receives and emits radiation, and how this affects temperature.

How the activity is situated in the course

I give this activity early in the course, as we're looking at what factors influence surface temperature.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

The goal of this activity is for students to think about how radiation deficits and surpluses affect surface temperature and how these patterns change throughout the year.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Students use data and their knowledge of energy deficits to predict when the temperature minimum will be at a site.

Other skills goals for this activity

Graphing skills are practiced as students plot data on a graph.

Description of the activity/assignment

In this activity, students analyze actual net radiation data from their professor's field site in Northern Manitoba, Canada. They use this data to assess when the site has a radiation surplus and when it has a deficit. They use this data to estimate the time of the temperature minimum. They then think about what they've learned about seasonal cycles in insolation to predict how these patterns would shift at a different time of year.

Determining whether students have met the goals

I examine their completed assignment.

After they have completed their work, I set aside the first part of the next class so we can discuss the assignment. There is a VERY common misconception that the temperature minimum occurs at the same time as the net radiation minimum. I bring a plot of the actual temperature cycle from the same day and we talk about why the earth continues to cool down until the dawn hours.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

Other Materials