Climate Science Academy

Accurate climate science information from leading climate scientists

Module B: Earth's Energy Balance

Climate Literacy Essential Principle 1

Guiding Question

What effect does the Sun have on the Earth's climate system?


The sun is the primary source of energy for Earth’s climate system.

Much of the Sun's energy that reaches Earth is absorbed and heats the land, ocean, and atmosphere; some of it is reflected back to space by the surface, ice, or clouds. Earth's energy budget is in balance when the planet emits the same amount of energy as it absorbs. The greenhouse effect--a natural process that warms our planet to a habitable temperature and enables life to exist--is caused by greenhouse gases (mainly water vapor, carbon dioxide, and methane) in the atmosphere that absorb the infrared heat radiated from Earth's surface. 

Learning & Teaching About Essential Principle 1 with the Climate Literacy & Energy Awareness Network (CLEAN)

Introduction to Climate Literacy Essential Principle 1 presented by Mark McCaffrey

Scientist Presentation

Jim White of INSTAAR at the University of Colorado Boulder explains Earth’s energy budget and climate. The Sun's energy is absorbed, reflected, and radiated throughout the Earth system of the atmosphere, hydrosphere, geosphere, and biosphere.

Webinar with an Expert

Rodney Viereck of the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center explains solar forcing of Earth’s climate system. What role does the Sun play in driving climate? Is the Sun causing the recent global warming trend that has been observed over the past 50 years?

Module B Quiz

Key concepts of Climate Literacy Essential Principle 1:

a. Sunlight reaching Earth can heat the land, ocean, and atmosphere.

b. When Earth emits the same amount of energy as it absorbs, its energy budget is in balance, and its average temperature remains stable.

c. The tilt of Earth's axis relative to its orbit around the Sun results in predictable changes in the duration of daylight and the amount of sunlight received at any latitude throughout a year.

d. Gradual changes in Earth's rotation and orbit around the Sun change the intensity of sunlight received in our planet's polar and equatorial regions.

e. A significant increase or decrease in the Sun's energy output would cause Earth to warm or cool.


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