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Modeling Planetary Energy Balance


A Model/Simulation to learn about vertical energy (heat) transfer in the Earth’s system and planetary energy balance.

Students will vary parameters such as the solar constant and the planetary albedo to observe the corresponding effects on energy transfer from the Sun to the Earth and from the Earth to the atmosphere. They will learn about a simple energy balance model and its underlying physics.

As a teacher of Mathematics/ Statistics, you can use this resource to teach your students how to write code for the energy balance and Earth’s climate. Detailed instructions are provided by the author of the model. This code is in the “shiny” package of R.

The resource for coding contains four main components:

  1. A user interface that controls the sliders and passes inputs to the model
  2. A “server” that responds to user interface events in the web browser
  3. An energy balance model that does the calculations
  4. A program that creates and updates the diagram

Use this tool to help your students find answers to:

  1. For a given solar constant, how does an increase in the number of atmospheric layers affect the Earth’s surface temperature?
  2. For a given solar constant, how does an increase in the planetary albedo affect the Earth’s surface temperature?
About Tool
Tool Name N-Layer Blackbody Atmosphere
Discipline Earth Sciences; Physics 
Topic(s) in Discipline Climate Models, Atmosphere, Planetary Energy Balance, Planetary Climate, Earth’s Climate, Greenhouse Effect, Heat Transport, Convection, Atmospheric Physics, Convective Heat Flux, Vertical Energy Transfer, Earth’s Atmosphere 
Climate Topic Planetary Energy Balance, Greenhouse Effect, Climate and the Atmosphere 
Type of tool Model/Simulation
Grade Level  Undergraduate
Location      –
Language English
Translation      –
Developed by Scott Denning (Colorado State University)
Hosted at Denning Research Group Toy Models
Access Online
Computer Skills Intermediate


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