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How To Estimate the Impact of Radiation Sources in the Environment

What impact does direct solar radiation have on the overall radiation balance? Dr. Colin Campbell, WSU Environmental Biophysics professor and METER scientist, shows you how to do the calculations in our latest chalk talk.


Hi, I’m Dr. Colin Campbell. And this is a METER Chalk Talk.

Have you ever been outside on a hot day walking in the full sun and then stepped into the shade? The relief is almost immediate. And I was thinking about that a lot when I was looking at this graph here, the estimated crop water loss on one of my experiments.

So this is an ET zero, meaning a reference ET. But since I was working grass, that was actually the estimated water loss from this grass crop. And what I noticed was that the shape of this curve kind of went up, and then went down. And it kind of matched right here, the solstice, the summer solstice. And in my mind, I thought, you know, what impact is direct solar radiation have on the overall radiation balance? Well, we can quickly just jump down and look at the equation that talks about how we might estimate the evapotranspiration from a crop. I’m not going to be able to have time here to get into what each of these variables mean.

But as you see, solar absorbed radiation, R abs is a strong component of that overall calculation. Now, when we talk about absorbed radiation, we need to understand that it’s not just all direct sunlight. In fact, if you assumed that, you’d be off in the weeds quite a bit, because it contains components of both longwave radiation, which is radiation that’s coming from your terrestrial surroundings, and shortwave radiation, that which is coming from predominantly the sun.

So let’s talk about that for a minute. With absorbed radiation, we have shortwave radiation. This is radiation that’s less than four micrometers. And we have longwave radiation. This is not surprisingly, from wavelengths greater than four micrometers. Now, this shortwave radiation, this comes from the sun longwave radiation comes from other sources, like trees, the sky, ground, just other objects that are around the temperature that we expect in the natural environment. Now, the truth of the matter is to get R abs, we need to combine both of these things into a single number. And it actually gets even more complex than that. So bear with us as we go on to the next equation.

R abs is a function of both shortwave radiation and long wave radiation. And when we calculate our radiation balance to get absorbed radiation, we have to actually take all of this into account. Now, you might be wondering, what are the other pieces in this equation, we’re going to spend a little time going over that. So you might understand how we can get from all of these numbers, all of these potential sources of radiation to a final number of R abs.

This portion of the equation here is shortwave radiation. And we’re going to talk about the variables in that equation. The first one we see is alpha s. It’s a number between zero and one. It signifies the percentage of shortwave radiation that the object can absorb. The other parameters in the equation include some F’s and some S’s. The F’s we call view factors, we’ll discuss view factors in more detail in another chalk talk. But suffice it to say that these essentially are parameters to estimate the amount of radiation that our object can see in its surroundings.

S stands for shortwave radiation. And this comes from several different sources. They include p: this is radiation that’s coming directly from the sun. That’s the one I mentioned earlier, that we feel if we’re standing in the direct sun, versus if we walk into the shade. But there are a couple of others. One is diffuse. This is the radiation that’s scattered as light comes into our atmosphere and it’s scattered by the atmosphere.

Finally, there’s R. This is reflected radiation, radiation that when it comes in, hits a surface, it reflects off that surface and comes and impinges on our object. Think about snow. If you’ve ever been skiing or out on the snow, you know, on a sunny day, you’re getting a lot of radiation that’s being reflected back. This portion of the equation over here is our longwave portion. Similar to our shortwave, it contains many of the same symbols, but they’re a little bit different.

The alpha L is the absorbed radiation. Now in the long wave that also goes from zero to one. The F is our view factor again, but now the view factor of longwave radiation, and L stands for that longwave radiation. This time, the subscripts A, that stands for atmosphere, and G stands for ground. If we put together all components in this equation, we’ll be able to solve for absorbed radiation. But that’s going to take a little bit of work. First, we need to understand the absorptivity of our surface both in the shortwave and the longwave.

The shortwave typically is calculated just from tables from looking out on the internet. For example, if I wanted to look at the absorptivity of a maple leaf, that’s typically around 50%. But it’s something that’s probably been calculated in literature. For our longwave radiation, almost all objects absorb long wave radiation at about 97 to 98% of the possible total.

So it’s pretty easy to estimate these absorptivities for objects that are fairly common. Calculating solar radiation and long wave radiation take a little bit more time. And especially understanding the view factors or how much of a particular surface our object sees, is going to take a whole chalk talk on its own. We’re going to leave this discussion here and leave for next time an opportunity to talk about how to calculate our shortwave radiation, or long wave radiation, and then get to the complicated discussion of view factors.

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One Comment Post a comment
  1. eric #

    Love this!

    May 14, 2024

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