Energy imbalances on Earth are the most important measure of the scale and impact of climate change, according to a new study published today in the first issue. Environmental Studies: Climatea new open access journal.
Distinguished scholar and highly cited lead author Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and climate scientist and co-author Lijing Cheng have produced a new and complete inventory of all the various sources of overheating on Earth. He studied changes in the energy of the atmosphere, oceans, land and ice that are part of the climate system from 2000 to 2019 and compared it to radiation at the top of Earth’s atmosphere to find imbalances.
“The net energy imbalance is calculated by looking at how much heat the sun absorbs and how much heat it is able to radiate back into space,” explains Trembers, who published the paper today. “It is not currently possible to measure this imbalance directly, estimating The only practical way for it is through the inventory of energy changes.”
Understanding the net energy gain of the climate system from all sources, how much additional energy is there, and its redistributed place in the Earth system is critical to informing and addressing the climate crisis. Previously, climate research has focused on the rise in Earth’s global average surface temperature. However, this is only one consequence of the total energy imbalance facing the planet.
Excess energy can affect weather systems, directly increasing the number or intensity of extreme weather events, such as heavy rains and floods, hurricanes, droughts, heat waves and wildfires. Weather events move energy around and help the climate system get rid of it by radiating it into space, which also contributes to rising global temperatures. The study further shows that 93 percent of the additional heat generated by the imbalance ends up in the Earth’s oceans, raising the overall temperature and sea level of the oceans, resulting in 2021 being the hottest ocean on record so far.
“Modeling Earth’s energy imbalance is challenging, and relevant observations and their synthesis need to be improved. Understanding how all forms of energy are distributed globally and how they are sequestered or radiated back into space will give us a better understanding of our future,” added Jingcheng Li, co-author of the study.