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

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Teaching Tips

Teaching Tips

Basic knowledge of the modeling software and understanding of modeling needs to be built in the students before handing them this assignment.

Lesson should be completed by a class discussion about modeling, its strengths and limitations, as well as a broader understanding of Earth's energy balance.

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