Introductory Meteorology

Lesson 2: The Global Ledger of Heat Energy


calculator and balance sheet
Keeping track of the Earth's energy transfer is much like balancing your checking account.

Do you remember when you opened your first checking account? That was certainly a watershed moment of personal finance! My parents tried to impress upon me the importance of writing every transaction down in the check ledger and always knowing my account balance. Maintaining an account ledger allows you to track exactly what money is coming into your account and what money is going out. The difference between the in-coming and out-going funds determines whether your account grows or shrinks in value.

While more and more people are using technology to keep tabs on their account balances, it's still critical to be aware of how much money is entering and leaving your account (lest you overdraft your account and incur unfortunate banking fees). In the study of the atmosphere, the Earth's currency is energy (much of that in the form of heat energy), and we have to understand the flow of energy into, around, and out of the earth-atmosphere system. This is true at all scales, from why cloudy nights tend to be warmer than clear nights (all else being equal), to being able to properly think about the Greenhouse Effect and Global Warming. As with your checking account, you must keep track of all transactions within the system to know whether there is a net gain or net loss in energy. In this lesson, we are going to learn about the various means by which energy moves and learn such terms as conduction, convection, and radiation. We will also see several examples where tracking the movement of energy can explain situations commonly observed in the atmosphere.

So, dust off your green CPA's visor and your adding machine, and let's dive into the Earth's energy ledger.