Science - 2018-19

6.3 a-b, d-e - Solar Energy

The student will investigate and understand the role of solar energy in driving most natural processes within the atmosphere, the hydrosphere, and on Earth’s surface. Key concepts include

a) Earth’s energy budget;

b) the role of radiation and convection in the distribution of energy;

d) cloud formation; and

e) the role of thermal energy in weather-related phenomena including thunderstorms and hurricanes. 

Bloom's Levels:  Analyze; Understand

Adopted: 2010


  • Weather is a short term pattern in atmospheric circulation patterns; climate is a long-term pattern.
  • Radiant energy from the sun creates temperature differences in water, land, and the atmosphere which drive local, regional, and global patterns of atmospheric circulation.

  • I can recommend an energy plan for my community.
  • I can construct a greenhouse to grow plants year round.
  • I can determine the weather forecast by looking at the clouds.
  • I can predict the likelihood of hurricanes and thunderstorms based on atmospheric temperatures.


  • Earth receives only a very small portion of the sun’s energy, yet this energy is responsible for powering the motion of the atmosphere, the oceans, and many processes at Earth’s surface.
  • Solar radiation is made up of different types of radiation (including infrared, visible light, and ultraviolet).
  • Incoming solar radiation is in close balance with the energy that leaves the atmosphere; otherwise Earth would heat up or cool down. Excess carbon dioxide and other gases may disrupt this balance, creating a greenhouse effect.
  • About one-third of the sun’s incoming energy is reflected back out to space. About one-half of the energy striking Earth is absorbed by Earth’s surface.
  • Earth’s surface is heated unequally.
  • When air or water is heated, the molecules move faster and farther apart, reducing their density and causing them to rise. Cooler air or water molecules move more slowly and are denser than warm air or water. Warm air or water rising coupled with cooler air or water descending forms a cyclic rising/falling pattern called convection.
  • Radiation and convection from Earth’s surface transfer thermal energy. This energy powers the global circulation of the atmosphere and the oceans on our planet.
  • As bodies of water (oceans, lakes, rivers, etc.) absorb thermal energy, the water evaporates causing the air to be warm and moist. Warm, moist air is less dense than cold, dry air, so it rises relative to colder, drier air. As warm, moist air rises, it gives off some thermal energy as the moisture condenses, forming clouds. Clouds are not gaseous water vapor; rather they are minute, condensed water particles.
  • Some thunderstorms are formed where the land is strongly heated. Hurricanes form over warm, tropical water and are fed by the energy of that water. 


In order to meet this standard, it is expected that students will

a)  analyze and interpret a chart or diagram showing Earth’s energy budget.

b)  comprehend and apply basic terminology related to solar energy, including wavelength; ultraviolet, visible, and infrared radiation; and reflection and absorption.

     analyze, model, and explain the greenhouse effect in terms of the energy entering and leaving the atmosphere.

d)  analyze the role of heating and cooling in the formation of clouds.

     order the sequence of events that takes place in the formation of a cloud.

e)  design an investigation to determine the effect of sunlight on the heating of a surface.

     describe the relationship between thermal energy and the formation of hurricanes and thunderstorms.


solar radiation, wavelength, ultraviolet rays, visible light, infrared radiation, reflection, absorption, greenhouse effect, convection, electromagnetic spectrum

Updated: Jun 29, 2018