*From a distance the sea looks flat and the waves of energy
traveling through it are invisible. The waves of solar energy are so
tiny we can never magnify them or get “close enough” to see them.
Some waves contain lots of energy and can damage living
things when they strike them. This is the symbol for these high
frequency waves. An example
is ultra violet light (invisible to our eyes).
This is the symbol for low frequency waves i.e. ones
containing less energy. An example is infrared radiation (invisible to
our eyes but we feel it as heat.)
Fortunately the small molecules of gas high in the atmosphere can absorb the potentially damaging high frequency waves and transform them into heat. As a result most of the very high frequency waves do not reach Earth’s surface. These molecules in the Thermosphere make only a small contribution to the total thermal energy retained by the atmosphere as they are small and far apart.
90% of ozone is found in a relatively narrow band lower
down. Ozone absorbs less high frequency waves –the ultra violet
waves that still
contain enough energy to damage us. History has shown human activities
can have a major impact on this layer.
The gas molecules of the atmosphere do not absorb the less high
frequency waves that form visible sunlight and these waves pass right past them to the Earth’s surface.
There solar energy is transformed into infrared radiation i.e. low
The large gas molecules like water, carbon dioxide, methane
etc can absorb low frequency waves and retain the thermal energy.
As a result the atmosphere close to Earths surface averages a
Life exists on Earth because the planet is subject to
constant global warming by the sun. In this extraordinary, wonderful and
dynamic process the constant inflow of solar energy is in balance with
the outflow of thermal energy.
This page is part of a programme Communicating and Teaching
the scientific principles underlying Climate Change issues.
This page is part of a programme Communicating and Teaching the scientific principles underlying Climate Change issues.\
Transformation of high frequency solar energy
into heat (low frequency infrared radiation).