Sunday, January 29, 2012


In the previous discussion (Characteristics of Energy Matter), we developed the concept of energy. We now must be able to measure and quantify it, using a standard set of units. Worldwide, two systems of units of measurement are commoly used today: the Metric System (Systeme International) and the British System. The units of energy described in these systems are derived from a technical definition of energy used by physicists. This definition suggests that energy can be represented by the following simple equation:

Work = Force x Distance

Similar to the definition given in the previous topic, physicists view energy as the ability to do work. However, they define work as a force applied to some form of matter (object) multiplied by the distance that this object travels. Physicists commonly describe force with a unit of measurement known as a newton (after Sir Isaac Newton). A newton is equal to the force needed to accelerate (move) a mass weighting one kilogram one meter in one second in a vacuum with no friction. The work or energy required to move an object with the force of one newton over a distance of one meter is called a joule.

Some other definitions for the energy measurement units that you may come across in this textbook are as follows:
  • Calorie - equals the amount of heat required to raise 1 gram of pure water from 14.5 to 15.5° Celsius at standard atmospheric pressure. 1 calorie is equal to 4.1855 joules. The abreviation for calorie is cal. A kilocalorie, abbreviated kcal, is equal to a 1000 calories. 1 kilocalorie is equal to 4185 joules.
  • Btu - also called British thermal unit is the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit.
  • Watt (W/m2 or Wm-2) - a metric unit of measurement of the intensity of radiation in watts over a square meter surface. One watt is equal to one joule of work per second. A kilowatt (kW) is the same as 1000 watts.

CITATION: Pidwirny, M. (2006). "Measurement of Energy". Fundamentals of Physical Geography, 2nd Edition. 29/1/2012.

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