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7.12: Solar Energy and Latitude

Created by: CK-12

This is Antarctica. What season is this?

The sun is always up, even in the middle of the night. That's the photo on the left. In the day, the sun never gets too high in the sky. That's the photo on the right. So, this is summer. In the winter, it's just dark in Antarctica.

Energy and Latitude

Different parts of Earth’s surface receive different amounts of sunlight. You can see this in Figure below . The sun’s rays strike Earth’s surface most directly at the equator. This focuses the rays on a small area. Near the poles, the sun’s rays strike the surface at a slant. This spreads the rays over a wide area. The more focused the rays are, the more energy an area receives and the warmer it is.

The lowest latitudes get the most energy from the sun. The highest latitudes get the least.

The difference in solar energy received at different latitudes drives atmospheric circulation. Places that get more solar energy have more heat. Places that get less solar energy have less heat. Warm air rises and cool air sinks. These principles mean that air moves around the planet. The heat moves around the globe in certain ways. This determines the way the atmosphere moves.


  • A lot of the solar energy that reaches Earth hits the equator.
  • Much less solar energy gets to the poles.
  • The difference in the amount of solar energy drives atmospheric circulation.


Use this resource to answer the questions that follow.


  1. What is latitude?
  2. What does latitude means to the heating of the Earth?
  3. Why do high latitudes receive less sunlight?
  4. What is the angle of incidence?


  1. The North Pole receives sunlight 24 hours a day in the summer. Why does it receive less solar radiation than the equator?
  2. What part of Earth receives the most solar radiation in a year?
  3. What makes the atmosphere move the way it does?


atmospheric circulation

atmospheric circulation

The major movements of air in the atmosphere.

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Difficulty Level:



6 , 7

Date Created:

Jan 04, 2013

Last Modified:

Jan 14, 2015

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