Reading: Introduction to Planetary Energy Balance

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A reading by University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) Center for Science Education that discusses how the surface temperature of the Earth can be calculated through simple energy balance equations.This overview reading can be used as an introduction to the topic by teachers interested in teaching about planetary energy balance.The reading discusses concepts such as “expected temperature”, thermal equilibrium, infrared light, black body radiation and Stefan-Boltzmann Law.   

Students will learn how to calculate the surface temperature of planet Earth based on the balance between incoming solar radiation and outgoing terrestrial radiation. They will also learn concepts such as blackbody radiation, the effects of albedo on the surface temperature of a planet, and the greenhouse effect of the Earth’s atmosphere.  

Use this tool to help your students find answers to: 

  1. Calculate the surface temperature of the Earth as a simple blackbody with no atmosphere.
  2. What is the greenhouse effect of the atmosphere? 

About the Tool 

Tool NameCalculating Planetary Energy Balance and Temperature
DisciplineEarth Sciences, Physics
Topic(s) in DisciplineClimate Change Overview, Blackbody, Energy, Energy Balance, Albedo, Electromagnetic Radiation, Conservation of Energy
Climate Topic Planetary Energy Balance; Planetary Climate
Type of tool Reading
Grade LevelHigh School, Undergraduate
Developed byUniversity Corporation for Atmospheric Research, Center for Science Education
Hosted atUniversity Corporation for Atmospheric Research 
Computer SkillsBasic