How the Sun Affects Weather Patterns on Earth

Our Sun supplies 99.9 percent of the energy that powers biological life on our planet, Earth. Photosynthesizing plants, algae and phytoplankton trapping that energy in molecules of carbohydrates at the bottom of tremendously complex food webs. Just as the Sun is the primary source powering our lives, it is also the primary source powering the weather.

Essentially, weather is all about the gases, liquids, dusts and frozen solids of our planet Earth’s atmosphere, at least those in the troposphere, that part closest to the Earth’s surface where we live and breathe. Even the top of Mount Everest is within the troposphere. Unlike our airless moon, our home planet is large enough to generate a gravity field that entraps gases, surrounding its surface with an atmosphere. If it didn’t, we quite simply wouldn’t be here. But gases do not have a structural solidity, they can and do flow like liquids such as water, but they are far more turbulent, volatile and easily influenced. Violently moving about the small droplets of liquid and the solid particulates of dust and frozen liquids suspended by the air’s pressure.

The Earth is roughly a sphere spinning in space, the gases encompassing it, while held by gravity, still experience drag. They are also affected by the tidal influences of other nearby celestial bodies, most prominently the moon and the sun.

Sol, our sun, is the largest body in the solar system by far; as such it is the center and focus, its gravitational pull causes all other objects in the solar system to orbit it. While we generally think of the moon when we discuss tides, and legitimately so, since it’s proximity to the Earth results in a greater tidal or gravitational effect, the sun also exerts a significant gravitational influence on both the liquids and gases adjacent to our planet’s solid surface. It even affects an influence on plate tectonics, the movement of the solid surface layer we live upon, although not immediately noticeable to ourselves in our short lifetimes.

The sun, however, has a far stronger influence on weather, one totally unrelated to the force of gravity. Our sun is a massive nuclear fusion reactor that generates astonishing amounts of energy, a tiny fraction of which supports almost all the life on our planet. But for that energy to reach the plants that photosynthesize it to support nature’s food webs, it has to pass through the Earth’s atmosphere. Doing so heats the air traversed, it also warms the lands and waters it strikes.

The heat of the sun supplies energy in varying amounts to the atmosphere of the Earth facing it. More to the tropical regions than to the temperate or arctic zones. Heated gases expand. They rise and push outwards, sucking in cooler gases from less heated regions. Because the solid surface of the planet below them is curved, it induces circular movements in the atmospheric gases. All of the most powerful storm systems, hurricanes and cyclones, form in the tropics where the majority of the sun’s energy is received, then spin off into the temperate regions of either the northern or southern hemispheres.

It is well established scientific fact that gaseous systems become more turbulent and violent the more energy they contain. As the amount of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere increases, more of the Sun’s energy is retained. This results in higher average global temperatures, commonly known as global warming. This represents an increased level of energy in the gaseous system that is our planet’s atmosphere. As such we should expect more frequent and more powerful storms into the future until we take effective measures to reduce our pollution of the air we all breathe. This is the climate change effect of the accelerated global warming occurring from anthropogenic causes, such as the continued use of dirty technologies from our industrial infancy.

While the moon’s tidal influence has a small impact, and temporary terrestrial effects such as volcanoes can have large but brief impacts on our weather, the vast majority is directly related to the sun. Shining down on us, and more importantly, heating our skies!