Sunday, January 22, 2012

Thermal Equillibrium

An object is in thermal equilibrium when the amount of heat entering the object is equal to the amount of heat leaving it. In the case of a planetary system, consisting of a surface and atmosphere, the system will be in thermal equilibrium when the heat arriving from the Sun is, on average, equal to the heat the system radiates into space. The planetary system of our Circulating Cells program will be in thermal equilibrium when the short-wave radiation penetrating to the planet surface from the Sun is balanced by the long-wave radiation escaping into space from its surface, atmospheric gas, clouds, rain, and snow.

When our simulated system converges upon a state where the temperature of its surface and of its atmospheric layers fluctuates around some average value, our hope is that the heat penetrating to the surface from the Sun will be equal, on average, to the heat the system radiates into space. The heat penetrating from the Sun is, of course, the incoming short-wave radiation that is not reflected back into space by our simulated clouds. The heat radiated into space is the upwelling radiation at the top of our simulated atmosphere. We refer to the top of the atmosphere at its tropopause, and to the heat radiated into space as the total escaping power.

We instructed CC11 to print out the average penetrating power from the Sun and the total escaping power from the tropopause every ten hours, and plotted these values for the fourteen thousand hours of the experiment we performed in our previous post. For the final ten thousand hours, the temperature of the surface and the atmospheric layers fluctuate by ±1°C around their average values, as you can see here.

Over the final ten thousand hours, the average penetrating power is 290.0 W/m2 and the average escaping power is 289.6 W/m2. Given the size of the fluctuations in both quantities, and the errors introduced by certain simplifications in our simulation's calculations, we are well-satisfied with this agreement. Our simulation converges upon an equilibrium state that is also a state of thermal equilibrium.

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