Solar Exposure

The Bureau of Meteorology publishes many useful datasets on its Climate Data Online portal, including one minute solar exposure data for selected sites around Australia.  You have to register to receive monthly data here.

(In contrast with their one minute temperature data which are not available at CDO but must be requested and purchased, and are really “final second of each minute”, their solar exposure data are (a) free, and (b) include for each minute, maximum 1 second irradiance, minimum 1 second irradiance, and THE MEAN IRRADIANCE FOR THE PREVIOUS 60 SECONDS.  Why not temperature?  We can only wonder.  But I digress.)

I am naturally curious and enjoy finding out new stuff, so in this post I’ll show a number of plots for the months of July 2017, December 2017, and February 2018 to illustrate some things I’ve found about summer and winter solar exposure for Rockhampton.  Why Rocky?  It’s where I live, and is just a few kilometres north of the Tropic of Capricorn.  At the end of December the sun is directly overhead, so December shows interesting information.  February is typically the wettest and cloudiest month, and July usually the coldest and driest.

One minute solar exposure data have several components:  direct (normal) irradiance (rate of energy from the direct beam of the sun tracked throughout the day); direct horizontal irradiance (the amount striking a horizontal surface); diffuse irradiance (radiation scattered from the atmosphere including dust and clouds striking a horizontal surface); and “global” irradiance which is the sum of the horizontal and diffuse components.  Also measured is “terrestrial” irradiance, which is downwards infra-red radiation on a horizontal surface, and related to the temperature of the atmosphere, including from clouds and humidity (not just at ground level, but throughout the troposphere).

Figure 1:  Irradiance for February 2018

rocky all feb 18

Note that terrestrial (infra-red) irradiance is fairly constant at around 350-450 watts per square metre, while direct irradiance on a horizontal surface fluctuates from zero to ~1000 W/sq.m., and diffuse irradiance fluctuates from zero to ~900 W/sq.m.  For a closer look here are the same data for one day, 1st February:

Figure 2:  Irradiance for 1 February 2018

rocky all 1 feb 18

Mean horizontal irradiance (the direct beam from the sun on a horizontal surface) is zero in the absence of direct sunlight- at night, but also when clouds are thick enough, and also is greatly reduced even by thinner cloud; at other times, it rises rapidly to ~900 W/sq.m. at noon.

Diffuse irradiance is zero until a few minutes before sunrise, with radiation reflecting from clouds, dust, and other atmospheric particles; similarly just after sundown.  It is much higher in cloudy conditions.

IR irradiance, relatively constant before sunrise at ~400 W/sq.m., rises during the day as the atmosphere warms.  It also fluctuates with cloudy conditions, more noticeably at night.  Clouds are composed of water droplets and emit IR radiation- a natural greenhouse effect.

The next plot shows how irradiance varies over four days as clouds and rain increase.

Figure 3:  Irradiance for 1 – 4 February 2018

rocky all 1 to 4 feb 18

The effect of cloud on horizontal irradiance is obvious.  Diffuse irradiance is maximised on the 3rd; on the 4th, clouds reflect most solar radiation, the surface is cool, and IR irradiance which had increased due to cloudiness on the 2nd and 3rd, returns to ~400 W/sq.m.

By contrast, Figure 4 shows irradiance during the hottest week of February with maxima above 39.1C (41.1C on the 12th).

Figure 4:  Irradiance for 11 – 15 February 2018

rocky all 11 to 15 feb 18

Note the smooth curves of horizontal and diffuse irradiance on 11th and 12th; early morning cloud on 13th – 15th with diffuse and IR increasing; and IR increases with surface temperature, peaking in the late afternoon- with little surges as clouds pass overhead.

Figure 5 shows the variation of IR irradiance during February.

Figure 5:  IR Irradiance for February 2018

rocky IR feb 18

The diurnal fluctuation typically of 60-70 W/sq.m. is obvious, as is the change over time.  The bottom of the daily fluctuation occurs in the early morning.  Notice the effect on the minimum temperature:

Figure 6:  Minima for February 2018

Tmin Feb 18

The last plot for February shows the irradiance from the direct beam of the sun tracked throughout the day:

Figure 7:  Direct Irradiance for February 2018

rocky direct feb 18

It’s interesting that the irradiance of the direct beam is not constant, even on clear sunny days.  It is possible that the rain of the first four days removed suspended particles; from 5th to 9th the wind was from the east or south-east (from the sea); from the 11th to 15th it was from the north west to north, blowing dust and smoke from the land, resulting in slightly dimmer conditions.

I now turn to July 2017.  July is usually the coolest and driest month in Rockhampton.

Figure 8:  Irradiance for July 2017

rocky all july 17

Due to the much lower solar angle, horizontal irradiance is much lower than February, mostly from 600 to 700 W/sq.m.  IR irradiance is more variable, so needs a closer look.

Figure 9:  Irradiance for 6 – 10 July 2017

rocky all 6 to 10 july 17

These were cloudy days, with wind from the north-west on the 6th to 8th, with a south-east change on the 9th with light rain on 9th and 10th.

19th to 22nd shows more of this atypical winter weather.

Figure 10:  Irradiance for 19 – 22 July 2017

rocky all 19 to 22 july 17

Overcast and 90% Relative Humidity in the morning of the 19th, then RH fell rapidly, with the lowest 3:00 p.m. reading for the month (16%) and 9:00 a.m. (36%) on the afternoon of the 21st and the morning of the 22nd– when IR, and minimum temperature, were lowest for the month.  The 20th and 21st were clear sunny days.   Some cloud arrived on the afternoon of the 22nd.

Figure 11:  Irradiance for 25 – 28 July 2017

rocky all 25 to 28 july 17

This is typical winter weather- clear skies, cool nights followed by warm sunny days.  Note the smooth curves for horizontal and diffuse irradiance, both much less than February.  This indicates cloudless skies and low humidity.  There is a little early morning fog or mist as indicated by small wiggles in IR irradiance, but not enough to affect diffuse irradiance.  IR irradiance again peaks in mid afternoon.

Figure 12:  IR Irradiance for July 2017

rocky IR july 17

Due to less direct irradiance, cooler temperatures, and lower humidity, IR irradiance is much lower than in February, and rarely exceeds 400 W/sq.m.  IR fluctuates less in clear dry conditions.   Again, IR is reflected in minima:

Figure 13:  Minima for July 2017

Tmin July 17

Figure 14:  Direct Irradiance for July 2017

rocky direct july 17

Note that direct irradiance is not much less than in February, even for being soon after aphelion: it is the sun’s lower angle in the sky that makes most of the difference.  The clear dry days on the 20th and 21st have the highest irradiance.

The next plots are for December, around summer solstice and close to perihelion, when days are typically hot and sultry.

Figure 15:  Irradiance for December 2017

rocky all dec 17

The first four days, and the 9th, were cloudy, with rain on 3rd and 4th, as you can see from the horizontal irradiance.  On the remaining days irradiance was close to 1000 W/sq.m.

Figure 16:  IR Irradiance for December 2017

rocky IR dec 17

Heavy cloud, swept in from the Coral Sea, on the first four days, and hotter maxima on the last two, pushed IR well above 400W/sq.m.

And the plot for minima:

Figure 17:  Minima for December 2017

Tmin Dec 17

Last one!

Figure 18:  Direct Irradiance for December 2017

rocky direct dec 17

You will notice that with the sun virtually directly overhead around noon each day (from 1.56 degrees from zenith on 1st December to 0.01 degrees from zenith on Christmas Day), sun tracking direct irradiance is almost the same as the horizontal irradiance.

What have I learnt?  The variability of solar exposure, which is strongly affected by what’s in the atmosphere: dust, smoke, gaseous water, liquid water (clouds); as well as time of year and time of day.  The extent that downwards infra-red irradiance, which is an indicator of atmospheric temperature, is increased by daytime surface temperature and also very noticeably by clouds, and decreased by lower humidity.  How IR strongly influences minima- the greenhouse effect.

Nothing new probably, but I hope you found it as interesting as I did.

Finally:  why, oh why, can’t the Bureau make one minute temperature data freely available, and why does it persist with one second temperature readings rather than the mean over the previous minute, which it calculates with solar exposure?

My next post will look at different factors influencing temperature, including solar exposure.

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5 Responses to “Solar Exposure”

  1. daveburton Says:

    This is very educational, Ken! Nice work.

    A useful enhancement would be to make the little graphs clickable, to show bigger versions.

  2. Geoff Sherrington Says:

    Hi Ken,

    Many more questions, but by analogy with temperatures and the one-second problem, does the one second solar exposure data have much more noise than the one minute? I know that it is not a straight comparison, but the solar data might give a feel for noise.
    Geoff.

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