In this study, a one-dimensional transient model was developed to analyze the temperature variation of tubular photobioreactors operated outdoors and the validity of the model was tested by comparing the predictions of the model with the experimental data. The model included the effects of convection and radiative heat exchange on the reactor temperature throughout the day. The temperatures in the reactors increased with increasing solar radiation and air temperatures, and the predicted reactor temperatures corresponded well to the measured experimental values. The heat transferred to the reactor was mainly through radiation: the radiative heat absorbed by the reactor medium, ground radiation, air radiation, and solar (direct and diffuse) radiation, while heat loss was mainly through the heat transfer to the cooling water and forced convection. The amount of heat transferred by reflected radiation and metabolic activities of the bacteria and pump work was negligible. Counter-current cooling was more effective in controlling reactor temperature than co-current cooling. The model developed identifies major heat transfer mechanisms in outdoor operated tubular photobioreactors, and accurately predicts temperature changes in these systems. This is useful in determining cooling duty under transient conditions and scaling up photobioreactors. The photobioreactor design and the thermal modeling were carried out and experimental results obtained for the case study of photofermentative hydrogen production by Rhodobacter capsulatus, but the approach is applicable to photobiological systems that are to be operated under outdoor conditions with significant cooling demands.