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Geosciences LibreTexts

6: Atmospheric Radiation

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  • Learning Objectives

    By the end of this chapter, you should be able to:

    • identify the causes of changing solar radiation on Earth
    • calculate properties of the spectrum of solar and earth radiation in terms of the Planck function
    • calculate the absorption between you and a light source
    • explain why the sky looks blue and hazy in the summer

    Atmospheric radiation plays a critical role in life on Earth and in weather. Without solar heating, Earth would be a dead frozen ball hurtling through space. Luckily, the energy that Earth receives from solar radiation is sufficient to produce liquid water on its surface, thus enabling life to thrive. In this chapter, we will look at solar radiation and its changes over time. Radiation is just another form of energy and can be readily converted into other forms, especially thermal energy, which is sometimes called "heat." In this chapter, we will use the word "radiation" to mean all electromagnetic waves, including ultraviolet, visible, and infrared. We will introduce some unfamiliar terms like "radiance" and "irradiance" and will be careful with our language to prevent confusion.

    Thumbnail: Note the two smaller eruptions before the big one. The Sun’s upper atmosphere (corona) is shown here. (CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported; Patrick McCauley/From Quarks to Quasars/SDO via Wikipedia).