DMPQ- Discuss the factors affecting the amount of solar radiation received by surfaces.

Every location on Earth receives sunlight at least part of the year. The amount of solar radiation that reaches any one spot on the Earth’s surface varies according to:

  • Geographic location
  • Time of day
  • Season
  • Local landscape
  • Local weather.

Because the Earth is round, the sun strikes the surface at different angles, ranging from 0° (just above the horizon) to 90° (directly overhead). When the sun’s rays are vertical, the Earth’s surface gets all the energy possible. The more slanted the sun’s rays are, the longer they travel through the atmosphere, becoming more scattered and diffuse. Because the Earth is round, the frigid polar regions never get a high sun, and because of the tilted axis of rotation, these areas receive no sun at all during part of the year.

The Earth revolves around the sun in an elliptical orbit and is closer to the sun during part of the year. When the sun is nearer the Earth, the Earth’s surface receives a little more solar energy. The Earth is nearer the sun when it is summer in the southern hemisphere and winter in the northern hemisphere. However, the presence of vast oceans moderates the hotter summers and colder winters one would expect to see in the southern hemisphere as a result of this difference.

Countries such as the United States, which lie in the middle latitudes, receive more solar energy in the summer not only because days are longer, but also because the sun is nearly overhead. The sun’s rays are far more slanted during the shorter days of the winter months. Cities such as Denver, Colorado, (near 40° latitude) receive nearly three times more solar energy in June than they do in December.

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