Knowing Earth’s Energy Imbalance Key to Preventing Global Warming, Study Says


According to a new study published today in the first issue of Environmental research: climatea new open access journal.

National Center of Atmospheric Research (NCAR) Distinguished Researcher and highly cited lead author Kevin Trenberth, along with climatologist and co-author Lijing Cheng, have compiled a comprehensive new inventory of all the different sources of excess heat on Earth. He studied the energy changes of the atmosphere, ocean, land and ice as components of the climate system from 2000 to 2019 and compared them to the radiation at the top of the Earth’s atmosphere to find the imbalance.

“The net energy imbalance is calculated by looking at how much heat is absorbed by the Sun and how much can be radiated back into space,” says Trenberth, whose paper was published today, “it’s not yet possible to directly measure the imbalance, the only practical way to estimate it is to make an inventory of energy changes.”

Understanding the net energy gain of the climate system from all sources, how much extra energy there is and where it is redistributed in the Earth system is essential to inform and thus address the climate crisis. Previously, climate research focused on the increase in the global average temperature at the Earth’s surface. However, this is only one of the results of the total energy imbalance facing the Earth.

Excess energy affects 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 and help the climate system get rid of energy by radiating it out into space, which also affects global temperature rise. The study further revealed that 93% of the additional heat due to the imbalance finds its way into Earth’s oceans, raising their overall temperature and sea levels, making 2021 the warmest global ocean. recorded to date.

“Modeling the Earth’s energy imbalance is a challenge, and relevant observations and their synthesis need to be improved. Understanding how all forms of energy are distributed across the globe and are sequestered or returned to space will give us a better understanding of our future,” adds Lijing Cheng, co-author of the study.

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