Daily & Annual Temperature Patterns

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Julie Zundel

Julie has taught high school Zoology, Biology, Physical Science and Chem Tech. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master of Education.

Earth has the ideal temperature to sustain life due to possessing factors that are 'just right' from daily and annual temperature patterns. Explore the patterns that make Earth just right, influenced by daytime heating, nighttime cooling, cloud cover, wind, and many other factors. Updated: 11/07/2021

Temperature Patterns

You've probably noticed temperature patterns. For example, it gets warmer during the day or cooler when it's cloudy. What if I were to tell you the same holds true on other planets as well? Although the focus of this lesson will be Earth, we are going to look at two extremes in order to examine why the temperature varies daily and annually on Earth.

Think back to the fairy tale 'Goldilocks and the Three Bears,' where things were too big, too hot, too small, or too cold. Earth, Mars, and Venus would have fit nicely into that fairytale, with the Earth being just right and Mars and Venus having too little or too much of various temperature-altering properties. But more on that shortly!

You might think that Earth's location in the solar system is what makes it the 'just right' planet, but there's more to the story than proximity to the Sun. In fact, many things can affect daily and annual temperature patterns.

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  • 00:00 Temperature Patterns
  • 00:55 Daytime Heating
  • 2:48 Nighttime Cooling
  • 3:50 Cloud Cover and Wind
  • 6:40 Other Factors
  • 7:48 Lesson Summary
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Daytime Heating

It takes the Earth a little under 24 hours to rotate on its axis, and this is considered a day. As you know, during a day, there is a period of daylight and a period of darkness. Mars is similar to the Earth, with a day of a little over 24 hours. Venus, however, has an extraordinarily long day. In fact, one day on Venus is 243 Earth days.

When the sun rises on Earth, Mars, or Venus, daytime heating takes place. Daytime heating, as the name implies, just means the rise in temperature that occurs during the day. This is caused by the sun's energy reaching the surface and then radiating back into the atmosphere. Some of that heat energy can radiate back into space, but much of it gets trapped due to greenhouse gases. Like their name suggests, greenhouse gases trap heat energy (like a greenhouse), which keeps the planet toasty warm.

In our planetary Goldilocks story, the greenhouse gases on Earth are just right. This means that enough heat energy gets trapped so that, after the sun sets, the temperature doesn't cool off too much. Mars doesn't have as many greenhouse gases as Earth, so a lot of the heat energy from the sun radiates back into space. As a result, the temperature on Mars fluctuates dramatically when the sun sets as much of the heat energy escapes. For example, during the summer near the equator, Mars can get to a comfortable 65 degrees Fahrenheit during the day but at night, the temperature can drop to a frigid -130 degrees Fahrenheit.

Venus, on the other hand, has a lot of greenhouse gases, so too much heat energy gets trapped, resulting in surface temperatures of nearly 900 degrees Fahrenheit. Yep, you don't have to worry about the temperature cooling off too much during the night on Venus! This leads us into nighttime cooling.

Nighttime Cooling

As you've probably guessed, the flipside to daytime warming is nighttime cooling, or the cooling that occurs during the night due to heat energy radiating back into space. Remember, the greenhouse gases on Earth keep heat energy trapped, so, although the temperature does drop at night, a lot of the energy remains trapped and keeps it from getting too cold. Contrast this with Mars, whose temperature drops very quickly after the sun sets (remember 65 degrees Fahrenheit to -130 degrees Fahrenheit), and Venus who has less temperature variation due to all the greenhouse gases.

You might not realize it, but you are familiar with daytime heating and nighttime cooling on Earth. Just take a look at the weather forecast and you can see the daily highs are reached during the day, due to daytime heating, and the daily lows are at night, due to nighttime cooling. This heating and cooling pattern exists throughout the year, but due to seasons, the daily highs and nightly lows will vary throughout the year.

Cloud Cover and Wind

Daytime heating and nighttime cooling are not the only factors that play into temperature patterns. Clouds reflect the sun energy that is coming to Earth. In fact, about 30% of the sunlight that reaches Earth is reflected back into space due to cloud cover. When weather forecasters predict the weather, they assume the temperature will be a little lower during the day if they suspect clouds, but a little warmer after the sun sets. This is because clouds act like a greenhouse, trapping heat energy so it doesn't radiate away at night. Depending on where you live, you may notice a daily or annual pattern with clouds. Some regions, for example, experience more clouds during the afternoon. Other areas experience more clouds during the winter months.

So if Earth has the 'just right' cloud cover, what about Mars and Venus? Venus is almost 100% covered by clouds. This results in much of the sun's energy getting reflected away from the planet but remember, the planet has a lot of greenhouse gases, so the heat that does enter the atmosphere gets trapped, causing sweltering temperatures. Mars, on the other hand, doesn't tend to have a lot of cloud cover, so the sun that reaches Mars is able to penetrate and reach the surface. That being said, remember also that Mars doesn't have much in the way of greenhouse gases, so even though the sun can reach the surface, a lot of the heat energy radiates back into space.

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