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Education Overview

About Energy Budget

Earth strives to maintain a balance between the overall amount of incoming and outgoing energy at the top of the atmosphere. This is called Earth’s energy budget. Earth receives incoming energy from the Sun. Earth also emits energy back to space. For Earth’s temperature to be stable over long periods of time (for the energy budget to be in balance), the amount incoming energy and outgoing energy must be equal. If incoming energy is more than outgoing energy, Earth will warm. If outgoing energy is greater than incoming energy, Earth will cool.

In order to make reliable projections of climate and plan as a society for potentially significant environmental changes, we need to understand how energy flows through our Earth systems. CERES data help enable this by providing accurate observations of how Earth’s energy flows are varying in time and space and how clouds and aerosols are affecting Earth’s energy budget.

Do Science with NASA

Click on image to enlarge.Image: Globe cellphone

Clouds have different impacts on Earth’s energy budget. Some clouds help cool, while others warm. Understanding clouds is critical to understanding climate. You can contribute to NASA’s research on clouds by joining the citizen science effort! Through the GLOBE Program, you can take pictures of your sky and report back to NASA what clouds you see. Simply download the GLOBE Observer app and join this international community. You can also identify cloud features through the NASA GLOBE CLOUD GAZE project on the Zooniverse online platform.

Educators: If you have one-week to investigate clouds and energy budget, use the GLOBE Teacher Pacing Guide. You can also find more resources on the NASA GLOBE Clouds website.

Families: Do hands-on activities at home together and learn directly from NASA scientists about clouds through the GLOBE Clouds Family Guide.

Communities: Learn more about the science of clouds and how you can join the citizen science effort through GLOBE Observer.

Researchers: Access the satellite matched citizen science data directly on GLOBE Observer Get Data.

Explore NASA Data

Image: Globe students

The flow of energy and matter is an important concept in the sciences, especially within the Earth System. My NASA Data offers resources to the education community to build understanding about the foundational relationships among energy and matter among the elementary, middle, and high school levels.

My NASA Data provides grades 3-12 with curated NASA data sets, interactive data analysis tools, and hands-on lessons and resources aligned to common Earth System phenomena found in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Informal Education/Outreach: The My NASA Data Flipbooks (Solar Insolation & Clouds) help reveal patterns in satellite imagery and come in multiple variables. The Data Literacy Cube is a quick engagement tool to use with any map, line graph, or dataset.

Student Research: The Earth System Data Explorer is a data visualization tool allowing students to explore NASA data. Datasets related to Earth’s energy budget include (but are not limited to) the following: Longwave and Shortwave Radiation at Earth’s Surface, Net Atmospheric Radiation, Latent and Sensible Heat, and Albedo.

Teachers: Many of the My NASA Data phenomena resources are related to Energy Budget and Climate (i.e. Albedo, Sea Level Rise, Air Temperatures, and Plant Growth Patterns). Below are resources aligned with NGSS standards related to energy budget.

Activity Description NGSS
Resource Type
Analyzing Cloud Effects on Earth’s Energy Budget Students analyze the interaction between clouds and Earth’s incoming and outgoing energy. HS-ESS2-4 Mini lesson
(~10-30 min)
Analyzing Earth’s Energy Imbalance by Latitude and Month Students analyze a chart showing the average imbalance of energy in the Earth System shown by latitudinal zonal bands over time. HS-ESS2-4 Mini lesson
(~10-30 min)
Clouds & Earth’s Climate with Dr. Patrick Taylor Video Students hear Dr. Patrick Taylor share how he studies clouds and Earth’s energy budget by analyzing data from low Earth orbit satellites. He also discusses the different effects of clouds on the energy budget. MS-ESS2-1
Mini lesson
(~30 min)
Earth’s Energy Budget-Seasonal Cycles Students explore and evaluate global solar radiation data from NASA satellites. Students make qualitative and quantitative observations about seasonal variations in net energy input to the Earth System. HS-ESS2-4
Lesson Plan
(~90 min)
Earth System Energy Travels Students identify where incoming solar energy goes once it enters the Earth system by analyzing a pie chart to assess relative distribution. 5-ESS2-1
Mini lesson
(~10-30 min)
Examining a Simplified Model of Cloud Effects on Earth’s Energy Budget Students analyze the interaction between different cloud types and Earth’s incoming and outgoing energy. MS-ESS2-1
Mini lesson
(~10-30 min)
Interpreting Earth’s Energy Budget Students analyze a graph showing the change in net radiation during a multiyear drought in Central Australia. MS-ESS2-1
Mini lesson
(~10-30 min)

Additional Energy Budget Resources

Click on image to enlarge.Image: Earth's Energy Budget