The Earth's Heat Budget

Roy Plotnick
University of Illinois at Chicago
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Initial Publication Date: December 12, 2013 | Reviewed: December 1, 2010
Hands-on laboratory activity that allows students to investigate the effects of distance and angle on the input of solar radiation at the Earth's surface; the role played by albedo; and the heat capacity of land and water.
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Introductory earth science course, principally for non-majors.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered:

Basic algebra; some trigonometry is useful.

How the activity is situated in the course:

National or State Education Standards addressed by this activity?:


Content/concepts goals for this activity:

causes of the seasons; changes in radiative heating with latitude; albedo; heat capacity

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity:

Predicting radiative heating based on simple geometry and experiments; testing these ideas

Other skills goals for this activity:

working in groups

Description of the activity/assignment

Lab is divided into three sections. In the first part, students examine the effect of distance and angle on the radition received on the globe, using simple apparatus. They become familiar with the inverse-square law and the major role of the angle of incidence of radiation. In the second part, they measure the effect of different albedos on radiative heating of a surface. In the final part, they determine the relative heat capacities of water and sand.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Graded assignment. Learning tested with in class exams.

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