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Measurements of the Earth’s radiation budget from satellites during a five-year period. Part 1: Extended time and space means.

Article Link

Vonder Haar, Thomas H. and Verner E. Suomi, 1971. Measurements of the Earth’s radiation budget from satellites during a five-year period. Part 1: Extended time and space means. Journal of Atmospheric Science 28, 305-314.

Essay about this article

Verner Suomi (1915-1995) was a pioneer in satellite meteorology and a co-founder of the Space Science and Engineering Center (SSEC) at the University of Wisconsin, a premier institution dedicated to atmospheric research and instrument development for satellites and other spacecraft. His innovations in scientific instrumentation, data processing and analysis have substantially improved our understanding of weather and climate. His professional career combined inventiveness with a keen ability to mobilize human and financial resources in support of his ideas and projects. His collaborator on this paper was Thomas Vonder Haar, a former student, post-doctoral associate, and new professor at Colorado State University (“Wisconsin West”).

Vonder Haar and Suomi examined the net radiation fluxes of the Earth as measured by radiometers flying on first generation (TIROS) satellites and second generation (Nimbus and ESSA) satellites. They used newly available satellite measurements to measure both shortwave and longwave radiation budgets and generate revised estimates of the net heat budget of the Earth. The results, which included important information about different regions and seasons, indicated that Earth is much darker and warmer (by 3 K) than had previously been assumed, with more solar energy being absorbed in low latitudes and therefore, more energy being transported poleward.

Vonder Haar and Suomi estimated that, within the measuring ability of their instruments, the net radiation budget of the Earth was nearly in balance. This was true for both the Northern and Southern hemispheres even though the extent of oceans and land masses in the two hemispheres are entirely different. This led them to conclude that the nature and extent of cloudiness must be governing both shortwave gains and infrared losses. They also discovered that the equator-to-pole gradient of net radiation has its greatest relative change between summer and fall in both hemispheres, with not all years giving the same result. This indicated that more study was in order. Satellite and ground observations needed to be combined for enhanced understanding, as they were during the Global Atmospheric Research Programme (GARP). Satellite observations are also needed to calibrate radiation models and provide realistic estimates of net radiative cooling in the atmosphere.

Since 1971 Earth-orbiting satellites have provided increasingly precise global and spatially-resolved measurements of components of the heat budget and play an increasingly important role in monitoring global variability and global change.


Discussion Questions


a. Look up Suomi’s biography and explain how he moved from studying local surface heat budgets to satellite heat budgets of the planet.


b. What conceptual and geometric factors need to be taken into consideration to construct a heat budget for the entire Earth.


c. What is the relationship between atmospheric science and space science in the space age? In other words, discuss the importance of Earth observations from space and the challenges of making them with accuracy and consistency.



References

Kidder, S.Q. and T. H. Vonder Haar, 1995. Satellite meteorology: An introduction. Academic Press.

National Academy of Sciences, 2007. Earth Observations from Space: The First 50 Years of Scientific Achievements. Washington, DC, National Academy Press.




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