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Earth's Radiation Budget: Part 1

The lab activity described here was created by Columbia University Earth and Environmental Science Faculty. This Starting Point page was organized by Robert MacKay, Clark College.

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This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project


In this activity students explore the Earth's radiation budget using Earth radiation Budget Experiment (ERBE) data archived at the IRI/LDEO Climate Data Library (more info) . This archive is complete with visualization tools for easy assessment and visualization of large data sets. Students also use photometers and light sources to work through several hands-on activities related to basic radiation concepts.

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Learning Goals

  • Introduce students to the Earths Radiation Budget (more info) ;
  • Introduce students to the IRI/LDEO Climate Data Library (more info) and associated visualization tools ;
  • Provide students with a hands-on laboratory measurement experience;
  • Topics covered include:
    • albedo;
    • clear sky solar, terrestrial, and net radiation;
    • angle of incidence and absorbed solar radiation.

Context for Use

This activity can be used as a homework assignment or lab activity in an introductory geoscience course with climate change content. Instructors can also use the ERBE data and graphs or Excel spread sheets for interactive lecture or other data visualization activities.

Teaching Materials

All material available at The Earths Radiation Budget Included are:

  • Background information related to ERBE;
  • Lab instructions and questions;
  • Data access and visualization links;
  • Excel file for modification;
  • Link to how to write-up lab reports of this type;

Teaching Notes and Tips

The activity requires 3 to 4 hours to complete and assumes that students have some prior experience using Excel. Earths radiation Budget: Part2 extends this activity to look at the effect of clouds.


Online teaching materials contain student activities that can help promote student learning. These activities can also be used to help assess student understanding of key idea and concepts.

References and Resources

Other relevant links include: