From Meteorology to Mitigation: Understanding Global Warming

Lesson 4 Summary


In this lesson, we began to explore the use of theoretical models of the climate system. We saw that:

  • a simple zero-dimensional energy balance model can be used to estimate the surface temperature of the Earth, as well as the response of surface temperatures to changes external (including human-induced perturbations). The model balances the incoming solar radiation absorbed at Earth's surface and the outgoing longwave radiation emitted from Earth's surface;
  • a simple linear approximation can be used in the zero dimensional EBM to represent the outgoing longwave radiation, leading to a mathematical simplification and a simple formula for global surface temperature;
  • using the simplest, black body approximation for the outgoing longwave radiation gives a global surface temperature of about 255K, i.e., 18C below freezing—obviously way too cold;
  • the gray body approximation provides a simple fix to the zero-dimensional EBM that incorporates, at least crudely, the atmospheric greenhouse effect;
  • using appropriate values of the gray body model coefficients, we can accurately predict both the Earth's surface temperature (roughly 288K, i.e., approximately 15°C), and the response of surface temperatures to perturbations such as increasing greenhouse gas concentrations (roughly 3°C for a doubling of atmospheric CO2).

This lesson also introduced us to the important concept of equilibrium climate sensitivity—a concept we will encounter again and again throughout this course.

Reminder - Complete all of the lesson tasks!

You have finished Lesson 4. Double-check the list of requirements on the first page of this lesson to make sure you have completed all of the activities listed there before beginning the next lesson.