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Earth Systems Science Core
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You Are My Sunshine!

Each day a remarkable amount of energy strikes Earth in the form of sunlight. The term insolation is used to refer to the amount of energy that arrives at Earth. When light energy strikes Earth it may be reflected back into space as light. It may be turned to heat energy which is eventually radiated back to space, or it may be captured by plants for a while. Examine the chart below to see where most of the sun's energy strikes Earth.

Activity: Take a few minutes and collect your own insolation data. Follow the steps below.


  1. Thermometer
  2. Paper and pencil
  3. Clipboard
  4. Sunny day
Safety concerns: As with all science lab activities, the most important safety rule is to follow all teacher directions.


Under Trees
Brushy Area
  1. Create a data table like the one above.
  2. Go outside and measure the temperature at each location.
  3. Answer the following questions:
    • Which area was the warmest?
    • Which was the coolest?
    • Why were some areas warmer than others?
    • Does the amount of sunlight striking the grass differ from the amount striking the road?
    • What happens to the energy striking trees, bushes and grass that doesn't happen to energy striking the sidewalk or road?
  4. Click here for answers from one experiment.

Scientists tell us that on average, 6% of the sun's energy is reflected by the atmosphere, 25% is reflected by clouds, 4% is reflected from Earth's surface, 15% is absorbed by the atmosphere and 50% is directly or indirectly absorbed by Earth's surface (including plants).



Draw a diagram using the percentages in the previous paragraph to show the result of sunlight striking Earth. Use arrows to represent sunlight. Draw clouds and features on Earth's surface. Place labels to show the percentages of energy being absorbed or reflected. (Note: An Internet search with the phrase "Earth's Heat Budget" will provide ample help if you are having trouble. It might also help to research this idea in an Earth Science textbook that describes the heating of Earth's atmosphere. This topic is usually in or near units that have to do with weather.


Review science lab safety rules here.

Get the plug-ins: Get Adobe Acrobat Reader and Get Quicktime Player. (The QuickTime plug-in is needed to play sounds and movies correctly.)

Want to share photos of you or your friends doing this activity? Send it in an e-mail with the following information:

  1. The title of the activity
  2. The URL (Internet address)
  3. Your name.

Remember that no pictures can be used that show student faces or student names on it. 

Teachers should view the Teacher Site Map to relate Sci-ber text and the USOE Earth Systems Science core.


Updated October 24, 2008 by: Glen Westbroek

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