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T he source of all the energy on the earth including its atmosphere is the sun. The energy radiated from the sun

comes from nuclear reactions in its core, where the temperature is about 15,000,000 0 C. Only ½ of the billionth fraction of the energy radiated from the sun is intercepted by the earth. We commonly, call this radiant energy of the sun ‘heat and light’. It is transmitted in the form of electromagnetic waves, which are commonly known as short waves. They travel at the speed of light (about 2,98,000 km per second). They drive the engine of the earth that operates the winds and ocean currents, generates weather conditions and makes the earth a livable place for human beings.


The word insolation connotes incoming solar radiation. It is absorbed in the lower layer of the atmosphere as bright light. Light is the

visible portion of the spectrum lying between infra-red and ultra-violet. The ultra-violet has dimension of shortest wavelength. It forms only 6 per cent of insolation and is consumed in photochemical reaction. While the infra- red rays, though invisible, form 43 per cent of insolation. They are largely absorbed by water vapour that is concentrated in the lower atmosphere. Insolation is greatest at the equator. It decreases polewards (Fig. 10.1). The total amount of insolation received at the equator is roughly about 4 times of that received at the poles. In tropical regions, the amount of insolation is not only large but there is also little seasonal variation. It is because all places between Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn experience overhead sun twice during the course of a year. In the temperate region, the amount of insolation is less than the tropical region and the seasonal variation is high.

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Fig.10.1 : Incidence of the Sun’s Rays at the Earth’s Surface Note how the high angle and low angle solar radiation spreads over the surface.


Effects of Atmosphere on Insolation

The energy from the sun passes through different layers of the atmosphere before it reaches the ground. Atmospheric gases are essentially transparent to visible light, but suspended particles of liquid or solid material can absorb

or reflect light. A thick cloud may allow less than

10 per cent of sunlight passing through it to reach the earth’s surface. Clouds generally behave like mirrors; they reflect sunlight in different directions rather than absorbing it. Reflected sunlight is permanently lost to the

earth. The blue colour of daytime sky is due to scattering of sunlight. But for scattering effect, the sky would be black starry even when the sun

is high up in the sky.

Terrestrial Absorption and Radiation

The earth functions like a transformer in electric circuit, receiving energy in one state and transmitting it to another. The sun heats the earth and the earth heats the atmosphere. Nearly 51 per cent of the solar energy reaches the earth directly or indirectly. The absorbed insolation causes the surface temperature to rise and in turn land becomes energy radiator. The sun emits short-wave radiation to space. The earth, on the other hand, radiates long- wave, which is known as terrestrial radiation.

Impact of Land and Water

The land and water surface react differently to the incoming solar radiation. The heat

capacity or specific heat of water is five times that of land surface. This means that same amount of heat applied to same mass of water and land result in temperature increase that

is five times greater for the land than water. If

heat is withdrawn from land and water, the temperature decrease will be five times greater

for the land than for water. This arises from the fact that water tends to store the heat it receives, land quickly returns it to the atmosphere. Water is essentially transparent,

it allows some amount of heat to penetrate to

a depth of several metres. Land, on the

contrary, is opaque, so there is great concentration of insolation in its upper layer.


The general law may be stated as follows. Land surfaces are rapidly and intensely heated under the sun’s rays, whereas water surfaces are only slowly and moderately heated. On the other hand, land surfaces cool off more rapidly than water surface when solar radiation is cut off. Temperature contrasts are, therefore, more over land areas but only moderate over water areas.

Heat Budget

Insolation is subjected to several processes of absorption, reflection and scattering. They decide the heat budget of the earth and the atmosphere. The amount of solar energy passing through the atmosphere depends upon the angle of the sunrays and transparency of the atmosphere. It varies according to time and place. The solar energy absorbed by the earth gets translated into heat day after day, year after year. All of our weather records reveal, certainly in general fashion, a strong continuity of temperature characteris- tics with little to indicate the warming trend that would be mandatory if energy receipt exceeded loss, so the counter flow must exist. The gains and losses in heat by incoming and outgoing radiation is known as heat budget. The term ‘budget’ implies balance in the gains and losses of the solar energy on the earth. The sun emits the short wave radiation to space, while the earth radiates long-wave or infra-red radiation to space. The solar energy strikes the upper limits of the atmosphere and it gradually reaches the earth’s surface directly and indirectly (scattered) and is absorbed. It is estimated that out of 100 units of incoming solar energy, only 22 units travel directly to the earth’s surface. This energy flow is called direct radiation. The 35 units received at the upper limit of the troposphere is reflected and scattered back into space by clouds (24 units), dust particles (7 units) and by surface of the earth (4 units) in its original short-wave. Some of the scattered rays (25 units in all) eventually, find their way down to the earth’s surface and are absorbed by it. They are collectively called diffuse radiation. Another 18 units of incoming solar radiation is absorbed




Fig.10.2 : Terrestrial Heat Budget

by ozone (3 units), water, dust and other components of the atmosphere (13 units) and by clouds (2 units). In all, 47 units of solar energy reach the earth’s surfae as direct or diffuse radiation, while 18 units are absorbed by the atmosphere. As such 65 units in all (47 units of the earth’s surface +18 units of the atmosphere) take part in heating the earth and its atmosphere. To balance the budget, 65 units are lost to space in the form of long waves by the earth’s surface directly (5 units) and reradiated from the earth to the atmosphere (60 units).

Latitudinal Heat Balance

The mean annual temperature of the earth as a whole remains same. But balance between

incoming and outgoing radiation is not uniform and varies from latitude to latitude. Yet in spite of this imbalance, no latitude appears to be getting progressively warmer or colder. In the low latitudes (between 40 0 North and 40 0 South) heat gained by short wave radiation is far more than the heat loss by long waves through the earth’s radiation. While in the higher latitudes more heat is lost by outgoing long wave than it is received in short waves. In view of the imbalances at high and low latitudes, there is a large scale transfer of heat from tropics to high latitudes by atmospheric and oceanic circulation. The transfer of heat takes place in middle latitudes between 30 o and 50 o . In short,


nature provides mechanism of heat transfer from tropics towards poles mainly through atmospheric circulation (75 per cent) and through oceanic current (25 per cent) to maintain the heat balance for the earth as a whole.

Convection and Advection

The transfer of heat in the atmosphere takes place in many ways. Transfer of heat through horizontal movement of the air is called advection. Vertical mixing of the air or turbulence is also frequent. It is called convection. The convective transfer of energy is confined only to the troposphere. Air in the lower layer of the atmosphere gets heated either by the earth’s radiation, called terrestrial radiation or by conduction. When two bodies of unequal temperature are in contact with one another, there is a flow of energy from the warmer to cooler body. The transfer of heat continues until both the bodies attain the same temperature or the contact is broken. Metals are good conductors, air is not. Hence, conduction is important in heating the lower layers of the atmosphere. The heating of air leads to expansion. As its density decreases, it becomes lighter and moves upwards. The


continuous ascent of heated air creates vacuum in lower layer. The cooler air above, being denser and heavier, slips down to fill the vacuum, leading to constant heating of warm air on one side and slipping cold air on the other side (Fig.10.3). Hence, the cyclic movement of air is associated with the heat transfer from lower layer to upper layer. Horizontal air movement is relatively more important than vertical movement. In middle latitudes, most of diurnal (day and night) variation in daily weather are caused by advection alone. The scorching winds blowing during summer, locally called ‘loo’ in northern India, are an outcome of advection process. Similarly, in temperate regions the advection of warm tropical air in colder months makes the weather pleasant. Cold polar air carries cold air towards warm regions of the world. Large scale reversal in temperature of the atmosphere near the earth surface is thus brought about by the process of advection.


The temperature is the measurement of available or sensible heat energy in a system. It is a measure of hotness or coldness of the body. Such property determines whether heat

coldness of the body. Such property determines whether heat Fig.10.3 : Tranfer of Heat — Convective

Fig.10.3 : Tranfer of Heat — Convective Motions in Liquid and Gases


will flow out or into an object when it comes in contact with other objects.


The earth revolves round the sun once in a year, in an elliptical path called the ‘plane of ecliptic’. At the same time, the earth rotates on its own axis in 24 hours. The earth’s axis is tilted making an angle of 66 0 30’ with the plane. Due to the inclination of the earth’s axis, the angle of the sun’s rays falling on the earth’s surface varies from vertical on the equator to more and more slanting as one moves towards the poles. When the northern hemisphere is tilted towards the sun, it receives maximum amount of insolation. On 21June the sun is overhead at the Tropic of Cancer and it is the longest day of the year for the northern hemisphere. All this time, the southern hemisphere is away from the sun and 21 June is the shortest day of the year for the southern hemisphere. On 21 March and 23 September the sun is overhead at the equator and the length of the day and night is same everywhere throughout the world. This position of the earth is called equinox. On 22 December the sun is overhead at the Tropic of Capricorn and the southern hemisphere receives the maximum daylight. It is, however, the shortest day for the northern hemisphere. Thus, areas between the tropics receive the maximum insolation. As one moves away from the equator towards the poles, the intensity of insolation decreases causing fall in temperature.


The temperature decreases with increasing altitude from the earth’s surface. This vertical decrease in the temperature is at the rate 0.65 o C per 100 metre or 165 m/1 0 C. These variations are normal throughout the troposphere and are termed as normal lapse rate. The direct source of atmospheric heat lies at the surface of the earth. The atmosphere near the surface is denser and contains large amount of water vapour and dust particles. Being closer to land surface, it absorbs more


terrestrial heat than that of upper air. Hence, temperature is higher in the lower part of the atmosphere than the upper part, where the air is cleaner and less dense. That is why higher we go cooler it is. Udagamandalam, Mount Abu, Panchmarhi are cooler in summer than plains.

Land and Water

Land and water surface react differently to incoming solar radiation. That is why land, water and ice get heated and cooled at different rates. Hence, the temperature of air resting over land differs markedly from the one over water on the same latitude. The temperature contrast between continents and oceans is greater during winter than summer. Lands heat and cool rapidly because solar radiation cannot penetrate solid surface to a great depth. As against this, it can penetrate water to a greater depth. There is also considerable vertical mixing in water. Moreover, the energy required to raise the land’s temperature by given number of degrees would have to be tripled in order to increase the surface temperature of water by equal amount. As a consequence of this heating differential, air above the oceans remain cooler in summer and warmer in winter than does the air on land surface.

Prevailing Winds

Prevailing winds also affect the temperature conditions of the areas. The moderating effects of oceans are brought to the adjacent lands through on shore winds. On the contrary, off shore winds take the effects of warm or cold currents away from land.

Ocean Currents

Ocean currents are large movements of ocean water from places of warm temperature to colder temperatures or vice-versa. Their movement affects the temperature of the adjacent areas. The warm currents raise the temperature of adjoining colder landmasses. The climate of north western Europe is modified to a large extent by ocean currents of the North Atlantic Ocean. The cold currents of


the western coast of South Africa or South America lowers temperature of adjacent warmer lands.


The temperature distribution over the earth’s surface could be analysed from the isothermal maps of winter and summer. Isotherms are imaginary lines connecting places of equal temperature reduced to sea level. Isotherms, in general, follow the parallels of latitudes because it is the cause of temperature contrast. In general, January and July months represent the seasonal extremes of temperature (Figs.10.4(a) and 10.4(b)). A comparison of maps, shows that there is a marked latitudinal shifting of isotherms between January and July, following

apparent movement of the sun and the latitudinal migration of the thermal belt. It is noted that where horizontal temperature changes are large, isotherms are closely spaced. On the contrary, where horizontal temperature differences are less, isotherms are widely spaced. The rate of change of temperature is called temperature gradient. We can draw the following inferences from isothermal maps:

The highest temperatures are found in tropics and sub-tropics. They receive the largest amount of insolation throughout the year. On the other hand, lowest temperatures are recorded in polar regions, where the amount of solar energy received is very small.

Isotherms within tropics are widely spaced as temperature gradient is very gentle and insignificant. The temperature gradient is very steep in higher latitudes as well as on the eastern margins of the continents.

January isotherms bend sharply on the continents towards the equator indicating that winter in the interior of the continent is more severe in the northern hemisphere. On the other hand, isotherms on the oceans exhibit poleward bend showing


thereby that the oceans are relatively warmer. January-Isotherms

You will notice that in the northern hemisphere, it is winter. The 0 0 C isotherm passes through the North Pacific. It is fairly straight through Aleutian striking the west coast of North America at Alaska. In the middle latitude region, the western coasts of continents are warmer than their counterparts on the eastern side, because warm ocean currents raise the winter temperature condition of the onshore areas. The close spacing of the January isotherms over the continents in the northern hemisphere indicates steep temperature gradient. It is very steep on the eastern sides of North America and Asia. It indicates that in January north eastern Siberia, Greenland, and parts of Asia, are the coldest places on the earth. In the southern hemisphere, it is summer. 30 0 C isotherm passes through north western Argentina, eastern part of Africa, Borneo and Australia in the southern hemisphere.


The July isotherms in the northern hemisphere are irregular, zigzag and widely spaced. This shows warm season and summer conditions. The 35 0 C isotherm passes over north Africa, south west Asia and north western part of India and south western part of America. In the southern hemisphere, isotherms bend towards poles on continents and towards equator on oceans. The continents are much warmer than oceans. The isotherms in the southern hemisphere are more regular, straight and closely spaced. This shows wintry conditions.

Inversion of Temperature

Normally, temperature decreases with increase in elevation. It is called normal lapse rate. At times, the situation is reversed and the normal lapse rate is inverted. It is called Inversion of temperature. Inversion is usually of short duration but quite common nonetheless. A long winter night with clear

INSOLATION AND TEMPERATURE 69 Fig.10.4(a) : World — January Isotherms (Temperature in °C)
Fig.10.4(a) : World — January Isotherms (Temperature in °C)



W E N N S S W E Fig.10.4(b) : World — July Isotherms (Temperature
Fig.10.4(b) : World — July Isotherms (Temperature in °C)


skies and still air is ideal situation for inversion. The heat of the day is radiated off during the night, and by early morning hours, the earth is cooler than the air above. Over polar areas, temperature inversion is normal throughout the year. Surface inversion promotes stability in the lower layers of the atmosphere. Smoke and dust particles get collected beneath the inversion layer and spread horizontally to fill the lower strata of the atmosphere. Dense fogs in mornings are common occurrences especially during winter season. This inversion commonly lasts for few hours until the sun comes up and begins to warm the earth. The inversion takes place in hills and


mountains due to air drainage. Cold air at the hills and mountains, produced during night, flows under the influence of gravity. Being heavy and dense, the cold air acts almost like water and moves down the slope to pile up deeply in pockets and valley bottoms with warm air above. This is called air drainage. It protects plants from frost damages.

Plank’s law states that hotter a body, the more energy it will radiate and shorter the wavelength of that radiation.

Specific heat is the energy needed to raise the temperature of one gram of substance by one Celsius.

Review Questions


1. Answer the following questions:


What is insolation?


How much energy radiated by the sun is intercepted by the earth?


Why do different parallels receive different amount of insolation?


How does the angle of the sun’s rays falling on the ground affect the amount of insolation?


What are isotherms?


What is air drainage?

2. Distinguish between :


Insolation and terrestrial radiation;


Advection and convection;


Normal lapse rate and inversion of temperature.

3. Write short notes on:


Differential heating of land and water;


Heat budget;


Latitudinal heat balance.

4. How is the atmosphere heated? Discuss the role of terrestrial radiation in the process.

5. What are the basic mechanisms of heat transfer? Discuss the importance of these mechanisms with reference to the atmosphere.

6. Discuss the factors controlling the horizontal distribution of temperature especially with reference to July and January conditions.

Map Reading

By referring to the map showing world distribution of temperature give reasons why

Isotherms generally trend east-west.

Isotherms shift north and south from season to season.

Isotherms bend while crossing over land to water and vice versa.

Isotherms are more regular in the southern hemisphere than in the northern hemisphere.