I am sitting at Carolina Beach, NC listening to the waves, feeling the wind, and doing my best not to get a sunburn. I’m also watching my kids play in the water, all the while waiting for them to run up asking for a snack. (Why is it that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches taste so good on the beach??)
Yet, in spite of the serene setting I cannot turn off my powers of observation. My X-ray ecology goggles are permanently affixed.
I say this because underlying the world all around me are energy gradients driving our changing world. There always has been, there always will be…until the sun burns up the Earth in a few billion years.
What I mean by energy gradients is that there is more energy on one side of something than another, and nature has a tendency to reduce this inequality by the fastest means possible.
Does this really affect us? ABSOLUTELY!
Let’s start with the waves crashing on this beach. The waves are derived from the wind blowing across the ocean pushing water toward the shore. Once the waves reach water shallower than their amplitude (the depth of the wave) they rise up toward the sky with the bottom of the wave dragging on the bottom of the shore while the top of the wave continues to travel at its original speed. Eventually, the wave top crashes over the wave bottom creating the tubular effect I utilized not one hour ago to body board.
The energy gradient there was the potential energy transformed into moving energy as nature took the mass of water resting above the other water and reduced that energy to the same level as the water. Still not convinced that is energy driving the wave, just think about getting hit by the wave, or think about that radical surfer using the wave’s energy to ride.
What about that pesky wind blowing sand into my beer? This breeze is derived from temperature differences in the air. When an area of warm air is next to an area of cold air, the two areas of air try to mix in order to decrease the difference of energy. Nature’s solution, if the difference in temperature and air masses are large enough, is wind. Tornadoes are another way that large temperature gradients are removed because bad thunderstorms have warm air and cold air mixing, creating the conditions/need for tornadoes to disperse the difference in temperature.
One of the causes for the change in temperature that creates this beer-tainting wind is the sun. As the sun shines, light energy is converted to heat energy on the molecules in the air, thereby warming parts of the air more than others. Nature uses wind to eliminate those temperature/energy gradients.
My kids are another incredible example of energy gradients, requiring special assistance from the sun. No my children are not part plant, even though both are partially named for flowers, nor do they photosynthesize, even though my wallet wishes they did.
The peanut butter and jelly sandwiches they ate for a snack are full of energy that was given to the plants (peanuts and blueberries and wheat, etc.) by the sun, and is trapped within the yummy molecules of those foods.
As our bodies digest the foods we utilize the important proteins to build muscle, and the energy stored in starches to power our cells for everything that they need. All of that was created using the actual energy from the sun, straight from the sun. Therefore, we and all living things are using the sun’s real actual energy to power our bodies.
When you think of it that way we are all Iron Men and Women. Beat that Tony Stark.