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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: June 2012

3 - Elementary models of radiation balance



Our objective is to understand the factors governing the climate of a planet. In this chapter we will be concerned with energy balance and planetary temperature. Certainly, there is more to climate than temperature, but equally certainly temperature is a major part of what is meant by “climate,” and greatly affects most of the other processes which come under that heading.

From the preceding chapter, we know that the temperature of a chunk of matter provides a measure of its energy content. Suppose that the planet receives energy at a certain rate. If uncompensated by loss, energy will accumulate and the temperature of some part of the planet will increase without bound. Now suppose that the planet loses energy at a rate that increases with temperature. Then, the temperature will increase until the rate of energy loss equals the rate of gain. It is this principle of energy balance that determines a planet's temperature. To quantify the functional dependence of the two rates, one must know the nature of both energy loss and energy gain.

The most familiar source of energy warming a planet is the absorption of light from the planet's star. This is the dominant mechanism for rocky planets like Venus, Earth, and Mars. It is also possible for energy to be supplied to the surface by heat transport from the deep interior, fed by radioactive decay, tidal dissipation, or high temperature material left over from the formation of the planet.