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NASA's Earth Radiation Budget Experiment (ERBE), involved data collection via three satellites: the Earth Radiation Budget Satellite (ERBS), launched October 1984; NOAA-9, launched December 1984; and NOAA-10, launched September 1986. The goal of the ERBE project was to understand earth's radiation budget by studying the balance between incoming energy from the Sun and outgoing thermal (longwave) and reflected (shortwave) energy from the Earth.

The ERBE Data Visualizer is a Java applet that allows interactive viewing and manipulation of satellite data in order to examine in detail earth's radiation balance.

This applet requires a browser that fully supports Java 1.1 or newer. Minimum: Netscape Navigator 4.06 for Windows or UNIX, Netscape Navigator 6.0 for Macintosh, Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0.

Data Set Variables

The variables provided in this data set are:

  • Shortwave Reflected Radiation [watts/meter2]
  • Shortwave Absorbed Radiation [watts/meter2]
  • Longwave Emitted Radiation [watts/meter2]
  • Net Radiation [watts/meter2]
  • Albedo [%]
  • Clear-sky Shortwave Radiation [watts/meter2]
  • Clear-sky Longwave Radiation [watts/meter2]
  • Clear-sky Net Radiation [watts/meter2]
  • Clear-sky Albedo [%]
  • Longwave Cloud Forcing [watts/meter2]
  • Shortwave Cloud Forcing [watts/meter2]
  • Net Cloud Forcing [watts/meter2]

How to Use the Visualizer

You will need a Java-enabled web browser to run the visualizer. Pressing the button above provides a "Control Panel" window. Using the Control Panel, one can select or deselect parameters, and request color data maps with their choices.

The Control Panel provides the following options:

  • Resolution: Users can "Change Resolution" from the top menu bar. This affects the number of data points available on the map. The larger the grid size, the coarser the map's resolution.
  • Window: This menu option provides easy access between multiple windows, if open concurrently.
  • Satellites: You can choose one or a combination of two or all three satellites. Not all satellites provide all years and months of data. To select a satellite, click on its name. To deselect, click on its name again.
  • Year and Month: The Year and Month boxes display the years and months for which the data is available for your choice of satellite(s). As you select satellites, the lists of years and months update dynamically. Select a year/month by clicking on it. Use the scroll bar in the small boxes to scroll down the list.
  • Variables: Select one or more variables from the list and click on the "Go get data..." button to request visualizations. Each selected variable will appear in its own window.

Each Visualization window provides the following options:

  • Data Map: You can obtain the data value at each point on the map by clicking on it. You can also select an area by clicking, holding down, and dragging your mouse. If you have more than one visualization open, your mouse clicks and selected points are reflected in all of the maps.
  • Selections: This menu allows you to select the entire map, or extract a selected area into a separate window for a closer look. So, for example, you can select North America, and then click on Selections > Extract Region, and you would get a new window with just that portion of the map.
  • Data Tools: Allows calculation of average of selected points/area on the map. You can also switch on/off coordinates of your selection.

Related Learning Module

An educational activity available on our website, Effect of the Sun's Energy on the Ocean and Atmosphere, uses this visualizer within the context of studying earth's radiation balance.

Data Source

These data were obtained from the NASA Langley Research Center EOSDIS Distributed Active Archive Center.

For background information, please see the ERBE project home page at NASA Langley Research Center's Atmospheric Science Division. The data are for scientific use and are available from the NASA Langley Atmospheric Sciences Data Center.

Shortwave Absorbed Radiation was computed using the following equation:

Shortwave Absorbed = Net + Longwave Emitted


  • Barkstrom, B.R. 1984. The Earth Radiation Budget Experiment (ERBE). Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. 65, 1170-85.

The ERBE Data Visualizer applet was written by Jose A. Alburquerque, a student at the City College of New York, for the Institute on Climate and Planets.