Modeling Earth's Energy Balance

In this activity, learners use the STELLA box modeling software to determine Earth's temperature based on incoming solar radiation and outgoing terrestrial radiation. Starting with a simple black body model, the exercise gradually adds complexity by incorporating albedo, then a 1-layer atmosphere, then a 2-layer atmosphere, and finally a complex atmosphere with latent and sensible heat fluxes. With each step, students compare the modeled surface temperature to Earth's actual surface temperature, thereby providing a check on how well each increasingly complex model captures the physics of the actual system.

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Kirsten Menking
Vassar College
Science Education Resource Center, On the Cutting Edge
Activity takes about two lab periods plus homework assignment. Licenses for STELLA modeling software required.

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Teaching Tips

Teaching Tips

STELLA software full license can be pricey but a free trial version is available.

Students work with STELLA box modeling software - no instructions to using the software are included in the activity but can be found here:

Literacy and Resources