# Climate: Earth s Dynamic Equilibrium

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1 Climate: Earth s Dynamic Equilibrium review session CCIU April 30, 2016 High-school standard HS-ESS2-4 focuses on the role energy flows play in Earth s climate HS-ESS2-4 Use a model to describe how variations in the flow of energy into and out of Earth s systems result in changes in climate. [Clarification Statement: Examples of the causes of climate change differ by timescale, over 1-10 years: large volcanic eruption, ocean circulation; s of years: changes in human activity, ocean circulation, solar output; s of thousands of years: changes to Earth's orbit and the orientation of its axis; and s of millions of years: long-term changes in atmospheric composition.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment of the results of changes in climate is limited to changes in surface temperatures, precipitation patterns, glacial ice volumes, sea levels, and biosphere distribution.] Earth s climate is determined solely by how much light energy it receives from the Sun and how that energy is distributed on Earth Luminosity of Sun (L): W Irradiance at Sun s surface (S Sun ): W/m 2 Irradiance at Earth (S E ): 1368 W/m 2 Average Irradiance (S toa ): 342 W/m 2 (S E /4) Irradiance absorbed: 240 W/m 2 (70%) 1

2 Temperature of a perfectly absorbing object (black body) is given by the Stefan-Boltzmann law For an irradiance (S): S = σt 4 σ = 5.67 x 10-8 W/m 2 T is measured in kelvins (Stefan s constant) (absolute temp scale) Example: What is the surface temperature of the Sun? T 4 = S/σ T = Earth s climate is an equilibrium system in which energy in equals energy out (Solar energy absorbed by Earth) = (Thermal energy emitted by Earth) (0.70)S TOA = S E S E = σ(t E ) 4 If the Earth absorbs more or less energy than it is emitting (S E ), the Stefan-Boltzmann law ensures that Earth can change its temperature (T E ) until absorption and emission are equal. Stefan-Boltzmann law predicts Earth s temperature based on the average absorbed irradiance Q: What is the expected temperature of Earth with 70% absorption? (T expected ) 4 = (0.70)S toa /σ = T expected = Compare with actual temperatures: T surface = 288 K T troposphere = 222 K 2

3 The blackbody model is reasonably good at predicting Earth s equilibrium temperature Question: Why is the Earth s surface temperature significantly above the temperature predicted by the blackbody (Stefan-Boltzmann) law? Sunlight is absorbed in the atmosphere by a variety of gases, especially ozone, carbon dioxide, and water vapor Much of the Sun s radiation is absorbed as visible light, but radiated by Earth as infrared light Visible light Infrared light (heat energy) 3

4 Different wavelengths of light reach different levels in the atmosphere, causing variations in temperature Temperature is also significantly affected by Earth s albedo, which is how much light is reflected Snow and clouds reflect 40 80% of visible light Oceans reflect less than 10% of visible light Earth reflects about 30% of the sunlight back into space and emits the remaining energy as infrared light to stay in equilibrium 4

5 Changes in Earth s climate system can occur when external forcings cause an imbalance in the absorption and emission of energy Question: What are the main forcings that can cause Earth s climate system to change? Climate change occurs as part of Earth s attempt to restore equilibrium Solar irradiance shows little variation even over millenia, which implies little impact on climate change over those time scales 1366 W/m W/m 2 Changes in Earth s orbit around the Sun, called Milankovitch cycles, can affect how much energy Earth receives Milankovitch Cycles are caused by variations in shape of Earth s orbit (eccentricity) Earth s tilt angle (obliquity) wobbling of Earth s axis (precession) 5

6 Milankovitch cycles, which occur over 10- and 100- thousands of years, caused past ice ages Milankovitch cycles, which occur over 10- and 100- thousands of years, caused past ice ages Changes in Earth s albedo (reflectivity) have a wide range of possible causes and operate over many time scales Question: What are some possible causes that contribute to Earth s changing albedo? Cause Time Scale 6

7 Changes in energy emission are mainly affected by changes in the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere Gas Pre-1750 tropospheric concentration 1 Recent tropospheric concentration 2, 3 GWP 4 (100-yr time horizon) Atmospheric lifetime 5 (years) Increased radiative forcing 6 (W/m 2 ) Concentrations in parts per million (ppm) Carbon dioxide (CO 2) ~ ,8 1 ~ Concentrations in parts per billion (ppb) Methane (CH 4) Nitrous oxide (N 2O) Tropospheric ozone (O 3) n.a. 3 hours-days 0.40 In comparison to longer-lived greenhouse gases, water vapor plays a dominant role in controlling emission of thermal (infrared) radiation 7

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