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Lecture 3




The earth revolves completely around the sun in an
elliptical path (not quite a circle) in slightly longer
than 365 days (one year).
As the earth revolves around the sun, it spins on its
own axis, completing one spin in 24 hours (one day).
The average distance from the earth to the sun is
150 million km (93 million mi).
Because the earths orbit is an ellipse instead of a
circle, the actual distance from the earth to the sun
varies during the year.
The earth comes closer to the sun in January (147
million km) than it does in July (152 million km)


The time around January 3rd, when the earth is closest to the
sun, is called perihelion (from the Greek peri, meaning
near and helios, meaning sun).
The time when the earth is farthest from the sun (around
July 4th) is called aphelion (from the Greek ap, away from).

From this we might conclude that our warmest weather

should occur in January and our coldest weather in July!
But the primary cause of seasons is not just nearness
to the sun.
Our seasons are regulated by the amount of solar
energy received at the earths surface.
This amount is determined primarily by the angle at
which sunlight strikes the surface and by how long the
sun shines on any latitude (daylight hours).
Solar energy that strikes the earths surface
perpendicularly (directly) is much more intense than
solar energy that strikes the same surface at an angle
[due to area covered see next slide].
In addition, the more the suns rays are slanted from
the perpendicular, the more atmosphere they must
And the more atmosphere they penetrate, the more
they can be scattered and absorbed (attenuated).

Sunlight that strikes a surface at an angle is spread

over a larger area than sunlight that strikes the
surface directly. Oblique sun rays deliver less
energy (are less intense) to the same surface area
than direct sun rays.

Length of time for which

the sun shines
The second important factor determining how
warm the earths surface becomes.
Longer daylight hours, of course, mean that more
energy is available from sunlight.
From a casual observation, we know that summer
days have more daylight hours than winter days.
Also, the noontime summer sun is higher in the
sky than is the noontime winter sun.
Both of these events occur because our spinning
planet is inclined on its axis (tilted) as it revolves
around the sun.

As the earth revolves about the sun,

it is tilted on its axis by an angle of
23 and 12.
The earths axis always points to the
same area in space.
Thus, in June, when the Northern
Hemisphere is tipped toward the sun,
more direct sunlight and long hours
of daylight cause warmer weather
than in December, when the
Northern Hemisphere is tipped away
from the sun. (Diagram, of course, is


Warm Summer Season:
On June 21, the northern half of the world is directed
toward the sun.
At noon on this day, solar rays beat down upon the
Northern Hemisphere more directly than during any other
time of year.
The sun is at its highest position in the noonday sky,
directly above 23 12 north (N) latitude.
If you were standing at this latitude on June 21, the sun at
noon would be directly overhead.
This day, called the summer solstice, is the
astronomical first day of summer in the Northern
Hemisphere and vice versa for Southern Hemisphere.

As the earth spins on its axis, the side facing the sun is in
sunshine and the other side is in darkness.
Thus, half of the globe is always illuminated.
If the earths axis were not tilted, the noonday sun would
always be directly overhead at the equator, and there would be
12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness at each latitude
every day of the year.
However, the earth is tilted.
Since the Northern Hemisphere faces toward the sun on June
21, each latitude in the Northern Hemisphere will have more
than 12 hours of daylight.
The farther north we go, the longer are the daylight hours.
When we reach the Arctic Circle (66 12N), daylight lasts for
24 hours.
Notice the region above 66 12 N never gets into the shadow
zone as the earth spins.
At the North Pole, the sun actually rises above the horizon on
March 20 and has six months until it sets on September 22.
No wonder this region is called the Land of the Midnight Sun!

Land of the Midnight Sun. A series of exposures

of the sun taken before, during, and after
midnight in northern Alaska during July.

During the Northern Hemisphere summer, sunlight that reaches

the earths surface in far northern latitudes has passed through a
thicker layer of absorbing, scattering, and reflecting atmosphere
than sunlight that reaches the earths surface farther south.
Sunlight is lost through both the thickness of the pure atmosphere
and by impurities in the atmosphere. As the suns rays become
more oblique, these effects become more pronounced.

Each day past June 21, the noon sun is slightly

lower in the sky.
Summer days in the Northern Hemisphere begin
to shorten.
June eventually gives way to September, and fall
September 22, the earth will have moved so that
the sun is directly above the equator.
Except at the poles, the days and nights
throughout the world are of equal length.
This day is called the autumnal (fall) equinox,
and it marks the astronomical beginning of fall in
the Northern Hemisphere.
At the North Pole, the sun appears on the horizon
for 24 hours, due to the bending of light by the
The following day (or at least within several

On December 21 (three months after the autumnal

equinox), the Northern Hemisphere is tilted as far away
from the sun as it will be all year.
Nights are long and days are short.
Daylight decreases from 12 hours at the equator to 0
(zero) at latitudes above 66 12 N.
This is the shortest day of the year, called the winter
solstice, the astronomical beginning of winter in the
northern world.
The date of March 20, which marks the astronomical
arrival of spring, is called the vernal (spring) equinox.
At this equinox, the noonday sun is shining directly on
the equator, while, at the North Pole, the sun (after
hiding for six months) peeks above the horizon.
Longer days and more direct solar radiation spell
warmer weather for the northern world.




At this time part of the world is now tilted

away from the sun.
Nights are long, days are short, and solar
rays come in at an angle.
All of these factors keep air temperatures
fairly low.
The June solstice marks the astronomical
beginning of winter in the Southern
So, when it is winter and June in the
Southern Hemisphere, it is summer and
June in the Northern Hemisphere.
Conversely, when it is summer and

Another difference between the seasons of the

two hemispheres concerns their length.
Because the earth describes an ellipse as it
journeys around the sun, the total number of
days from the vernal (March 20) to the autumnal
(September 22) equinox is about 7 days longer
than from the autumnal to vernal equinox
travels more slowly
when it is farther from
the sun, it takes the
earth a little more than
7 days longer to travel
from March 20 to
September 22 than
from September 22 to
March 20.

Middle latitudes VARIATIONS
of the Northern Hemisphere, objects facing south
will receive more sunlight during a year than those facing north.
This fact becomes strikingly apparent in hilly or mountainous
Hills that face south receive more sunshine and, hence, become
warmer than the partially shielded north-facing hills.
Higher temperatures usually mean greater rates of evaporation
and slightly drier soil conditions.

Thus, south-facing hillsides are

usually warmer and drier as
compared to north facing slopes
at the same elevation.
In many areas of the far west,
only sparse vegetation grows on
south-facing slopes, while, on
the same hill, dense vegetation
grows on the cool, moist hills

As the sun rises in the morning, sunlight warms the ground, and
the ground warms the air in contact with it by conduction.
However, air is such a poor heat conductor that this process only
takes place within a few centimeters of the ground.
As the sun rises higher in the sky, the air in contact with the
ground becomes even warmer, and there exists a thermal
boundary separating the hot surface air from the slightly cooler air
However, on a windless day, this form of heat exchange is slow,
and a substantial temperature difference usually exists just above
the ground.
Near the surface, convection begins, and rising air bubbles
(thermals) help to redistribute heat.
In calm weather, these thermals are small and do not effectively
mix the air near the surface.

On a sunny, calm day, the air near

the surface can be substantially
warmer than the air a meter or so
above the surface.

The daily variation in air temperature is controlled by incoming

energy (primarily from the sun) and outgoing energy from the
earths surface.
Where incoming energy exceeds outgoing energy (orange
shade), the air temperature rises.
Where outgoing energy exceeds incoming energy (blue


As the sun lowers, its energy is spread over a

larger area, which reduces the heat available to
warm the ground.
Sometime in late afternoon or early evening, the
earths surface and air above begin to lose more
energy than they receive; hence, they start to
Both the ground and air above cool by radiating
infrared energy, a process called radiational
The ground, being a much better radiator than
air, is able to cool more quickly.
Consequently, shortly after sunset, the earths
surface is slightly cooler than the air directly

As the night progresses, the ground and

the air in contact with it continue to cool
more rapidly than the air a few meters
Therefore, by late night or early morning,
the coldest air is found next to the
ground, with slightly warmer air above.
temperature just above the ground is
known as a radiation inversion
because it forms mainly through
radiational cooling of the surface.

On a clear, calm night, the air near the surface

can be much colder than the air above.
The increase in air temperature with increasing
height above the surface is called a radiation
temperature inversion.