What Absorbs the Most Incoming Solar Radiation?

Published on: October 3, 2022
Written by Ferris Gregor / Fact-checked by Nova Scarlett

The Earth’s atmosphere is bombarded with sunlight every day. This energy is what drives our planet’s weather and climate. But what exactly absorbs the most incoming solar radiation?

The answer may surprise you. It’s not the clouds, as one might think. In fact, it’s actually the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that have the biggest impact on absorbing solar radiation.

what absorbs the most incoming solar radiation

Greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and water vapor act like a blanket around Earth, trapping heat from the sun inside our planet’s atmosphere. This trapped heat is what makes Earth habitable for humans and other life forms. Without greenhouse gases, Earth would be a frozen wasteland.

So next time you’re feeling guilty about your carbon footprint, remember that you’re helping to keep our planet warm!

The sun is the ultimate source of energy for our planet. Solar radiation drives global climate and weather, governs plant growth and drives the water cycle. It’s no wonder that solar radiation is so important to us!

But what exactly is solar radiation? And what absorbs it the most? Solar radiation is simply electromagnetic radiation emitted by the sun.

This includes visible light, ultraviolet light, infrared radiation and x-rays. All of this energy travels through space and eventually reaches Earth’s atmosphere. So what absorbs all this incoming solar radiation?

The answer may surprise you…it’s actually clouds! Clouds are very effective at reflecting sunlight back into space. In fact, they reflect about 60% of all incoming sunlight.

That means that only 40% of sunlight actually reaches the ground.

Which of the Following Absorbs Most Incoming Solar Radiation?

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, black absorbs the most incoming solar radiation out of any color. This is because black objects absorb more light than they reflect, meaning that more heat is absorbed. This can be beneficial in some applications, like solar panels, but can also be detrimental in others.

For example, wearing black on a sunny day will cause you to feel much hotter than if you were wearing a lighter color.

What Absorbs Most of the Solar Energy?

The Earth’s atmosphere absorbs most of the solar energy. The ozone layer in the upper atmosphere absorbs ultraviolet radiation, while clouds and particulates in the lower atmosphere scatter and reflect sunlight.

What Reflects the Most Solar Radiation?

The surface of the Earth reflects about 30% of the solar radiation that hits it. No one knows when solar storm hit the earth. The atmosphere reflects an additional 20%. So, together, the Earth and its atmosphere reflect about 50% of the incoming solar radiation.

what reflects the most solar radiation
Credit: ugc.berkeley.edu

What Reflects Incoming Solar Radiation?

Incoming solar radiation is the sun’s electromagnetic radiation that reaches the earth’s atmosphere. This includes visible light, ultraviolet (UV) radiation, and infrared (IR) radiation. The amount of solar radiation that reaches the earth’s surface depends on a number of factors, including the time of day, the time of year, latitude, cloud cover, and atmospheric conditions.

Visible Light From the Sun

Visible light from the sun is what we see when we look up at the sky on a clear day. This type of electromagnetic radiation makes up about 47% of the sun’s total output. UV radiation makes up about 4% of the sun’s total output and is invisible to our eyes.

Uv Rays Are Divided Into Three Types

UVA, UVB, and UVC. UVA rays are less harmful than UVB rays but can still cause skin damage and contribute to premature aging. UVB rays are more harmful and can cause sunburns, skin cancer, and cataracts.

UVC Rays

UVC rays are even more harmful but fortunately they are completely absorbed by ozone in the upper atmosphere so they don’t reach us here on Earth. IR radiation makes up about 51% of the sun’s total output and is also invisible to our eyes. IR waves are longer than visible light waves and have less energy than UV waves.

IR Waves

IR waves can be divided into two types: near-infrared (NIR) and far-infrared (FIR). NIR waves make up most of the IR energy from the sun that reaches us on Earth.

Incoming Solar Radiation is Known As

incoming solar radiation is known as

Incoming solar radiation is known as insolation. It is the amount of solar radiation that reaches the earth’s surface on a given day. The amount of insolation varies depending on the time of year, the latitude of the location, and the weather conditions.

Solar radiation is composed of visible light, ultraviolet (UV) radiation, and infrared (IR) radiation. Visible light makes up about 47% of insolation, UV radiation makes up about 28%, and IR radiation makes up about 25%. UV radiation is harmful to human health and can cause skin cancer.

It is important to wear sunscreen when spending time outdoors to protect yourself from UV exposure. IR radiation is invisible to human eyes but can be felt as heat. It plays a role in both heating the earth’s atmosphere and in photosynthesis.

The amount of incoming solar radiation affects how warm or cold it feels outside. When there is more insolation, it feels warmer because more IR Radiation is present and being absorbed by our bodies.

What Three Molecules Trap Heat in the Atmosphere?

There are three molecules in the atmosphere that trap heat: water vapor, carbon dioxide, and ozone. Together, these molecules form a layer in the atmosphere that helps to keep the Earth’s surface warm.

Water vaporWater vapor is the most abundant of the three molecules and is responsible for about 60% of the greenhouse effect.
Carbon dioxideCarbon dioxide makes up about 26% of the greenhouse effect
OzoneOzone contributes about 8%. Other gases present in smaller amounts also contribute to the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect is important for life on Earth as it helps to keep our planet habitable.

Without it, the Earth would be too cold for most life forms to exist. However, human activity is causing an increase in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, which is leading to an enhanced greenhouse effect and global warming.

What Must Be in Balance for Temperatures to Remain Constant?

There are many factors that play into keeping the Earth’s temperatures constant, and in balance. The Earth is constantly bombarded with solar radiation from the sun. This energy comes in the form of visible light, ultraviolet light, and infrared radiation.

Solar radiation heats up the Earth’s atmosphere, which then re-radiates some of that heat back towards space. Greenhouse gases like water vapor, carbon dioxide, and methane help to trap this heat close to the surface of the planet, causing the Earth’s average temperature to rise. The amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere can have a big impact on how much heat is trapped near the surface.

For example, when there was a large increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels during the Industrial Revolution, global temperatures rose significantly. Today, we are seeing a similar effect as human activities continue to pump more and more greenhouse gases into the air. If we want to keep global temperatures from rising further, it is important to reduce our emissions of these pollutants.

Another factor that affects global temperatures is changes in reflectivity, or albedo. The Earth’s surface reflects some of the sunlight that hits it back into space. Snow and ice have a high albedo because they reflect a lot of light; dark surfaces like forests have a low albedo because they absorb more sunlight.

When there is less snow and ice cover (for example, during an El Niño event), more sunlight is absorbed by darker surfaces on land and sea, causing global temperatures to rise slightly. Similarly, when volcanic eruptions spew ash into the atmosphere, it can reflect sunlight away from Earth and cause temporary cooling. Of course, not all areas on Earth experience changes in temperature at the same time or at the same rate.

Different latitudes receive different amounts of sunlight throughout the year, so regions near the poles warm up and cool down more slowly than those closer to the equator. And since water takes longer to heat up than land, oceanic regions tend to lag behind terrestrial areas when it comes to temperature change. These regional differences are important considerations when trying to understand how climate change will affect different parts of our planet. Solar water heating systems use the sun’s energy to generate heat.

Incoming Solar Radiation Wavelength

Incoming solar radiation wavelength is the range of wavelengths that make up the electromagnetic radiation coming from the sun. The sun emits a broad spectrum of light, but most of its energy is concentrated in visible light and near-infrared light. This portion of the solar spectrum is what drives photosynthesis and makes plants grow.

The exact wavelength of incoming solar radiation depends on a number of factors, including the time of day, the season, and the location on Earth. In general, shorter wavelengths are more energetic than longer wavelengths. This means that blue light and violet light have more energy than green light or yellow light.

While all incoming solar radiation is important for plant growth, different plants use different parts of the spectrum more efficiently. For example, some plants reflect more blue light while others reflect more red light. By understanding which part of the spectrum a particular plant uses best, growers can optimize their conditions for maximum growth.

How Much Energy is Reflected by the Atmosphere Absorbed?

how much energy is reflected by the atmosphere absorbed

A large percentage of the energy that comes from the sun is reflected back into space by the atmosphere. This includes both visible light and ultraviolet radiation. The amount of energy reflected depends on a number of factors, including the type of atmospheric particles present and their size.

The larger the particle, the more likely it is to reflect radiation. For example, water droplets are very good at reflecting sunlight, while tiny dust particles tend to absorb it. The amount of atmospheric absorption also varies depending on the time of day and season.

In general, less energy is absorbed during the daytime because there is more sunlight available to be reflected back into space. During winter months, when days are shorter and there is less sunlight available, more energy is typically absorbed by the atmosphere.

What are the Bad Effects of the Sun to Earth

There are many bad effects of the sun to Earth. The most obvious is the greenhouse effect, which is when the sun’s rays warm the Earth’s atmosphere and cause global warming. This can lead to drastic changes in weather patterns, as well as an increase in natural disasters like hurricanes, floods, and droughts.

Additionally, the UV radiation from the sun can damage skin cells and lead to skin cancer. Finally, the sun can also cause eye damage, including cataracts and blindness.

How Energy from the Sun Interacts With the Layers of the Atmosphere

When it comes to understanding how energy from the Sun interacts with the atmosphere, there are three main layers that we need to take into account. These are the troposphere, stratosphere and mesosphere. Let’s take a look at each of these in turn and see how sunlight affects them.

The Troposphere

This is the lowest layer of the atmosphere and extends up to around 10km above sea level. The vast majority of our weather takes place within this layer as it contains almost all of the Earth’s water vapor.

Solar radiation has a significant impact on this layer, heating it up during the day and causing convection currents which help drive our weather patterns. At night, the lack of sunlight means that the troposphere cools down rapidly, leading to things like fog and dew forming as temperature differences between the ground and air create condensation.

The Stratosphere

Above the troposphere sits the stratosphere, which extends from around 10-50km above sea level. This layer is much drier than the troposphere due largely to a lack of water vapor but also because any rising air is quickly stopped by a ‘temperature inversion’ (whereby temperatures actually increase with altitude). This stable layer is also where you’ll find most commercial aircraft flying as strong winds make conditions too turbulent lower down.

Solar radiation does still reach this high but its intensity is greatly reduced thanks to scattering from atmospheric gases like oxygen and nitrogen. However, some UV light does manage to penetrate through and this can have harmful effects on exposed skin or eyesight. Additionally, ozone molecules in this layer absorb some incoming UV light which helps protect us from its more dangerous wavelengths further down in the atmosphere.

Without this natural filter we would receive far higher levels of UV radiation which would be incredibly damaging (and potentially fatal) for all life on Earth!

The Mesosphere

Above 50km lies the mesosphere where conditions become increasingly hostile.

Temperatures here can plummet as low as -90°C and there is very little gas or dust for solar radiation to interact with meaning that it can penetrate much deeper than in other layers . As a result , you often get stunning displays of ‘noctilucent clouds’ (NLCs) which are illuminated by sunlight even when they’re well away from direct line-of-sight to the Sun .


The Earth’s atmosphere is mostly nitrogen and oxygen, which don’t interact much with sunlight. So, what happens to all that incoming solar radiation? The answer is that it’s either reflected back into space or absorbed by the Earth’s surface.

About 30% of incoming sunlight is reflected back into space by clouds, ice, and other particulates in the atmosphere. Another 10% is scattered in every direction by atmospheric molecules, eventually making its way down to the surface where we experience it as diffuse sky light on a cloudy day. So what absorbs the remaining 60% of sunlight?

The oceans absorb about 20%, while vegetation absorbs another 6%. But the majority – 34% – is absorbed by the land surface itself. This heat energy warms the ground, which then heats the air above it through convection.

And this ultimately drives our weather and climate patterns.

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