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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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  1. This resource received a gold-star rating from a Panel Peer Review

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    They also singled out those resources they considered particularly exemplary, which are given a gold star rating.

    Following the panel meetings, the conveners wrote summaries of the panel discussion for each resource; these were transmitted to the creator, along with anonymous versions of the reviews. Relatively few resources were accepted as is. In most cases, the majority of the resources were either designated as 1) Reject or 2) Accept with major revisions. Resources were most often rejected for their lack of completeness to be used in a classroom or they contained scientific inaccuracies.

  2. This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Exemplary Teaching Collection

    Resources in this top level collection a) must have scored Exemplary or Very Good in all five review categories, and must also rate as “Exemplary” in at least three of the five categories. The five categories included in the peer review process are

    • Scientific Accuracy
    • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
    • Pedagogic Effectiveness
    • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
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    For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This page first made public: Oct 27, 2006

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.

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:


Geoscience:Atmospheric Science:Meteorology:Solar and terrestrial radiation, Energy, heat and temperature, Geoscience:Atmospheric Science:Climatology :Global energy balance, Environmental Science:Ecosystems:Biogeochemical cycling

Resource Type

Datasets and Tools:Datasets with Teaching Activities, Activities:Lab Activity

Special Interest

Visualization, Data, models, or simulations:Data, Complex Systems

Grade Level

College Lower (13-14):Introductory Level

Ready for Use

Ready to Use, Meets Peer Review Standard:Anonymous Peer Review

Earth System Topics

Climate, Biosphere:Ecology, Earth's Cycles, Atmosphere


Energy/Material cycles, Climate, Atmosphere


Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Biogeoscience, Teach the Earth:Teaching Environments:Intro Geoscience, Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Environmental Science, Atmospheric Science, Teach the Earth:Teaching Topics:Weather, Teach the Earth:Incorporating Societal Issues:Climate Change