Earth’s atmosphere retains heat twice as fast as just 15 years ago


These days, it seems like you can’t walk through a bookstore without stumbling across a book or magazine highlighting the negative consequences of climate change. Everything from the hottest years on record to the ruin of astronomy can be linked to climate change.

Today, a new science poses another potential problem at the feet of climate change: the Earth retains more than twice as much heat per year as it did 15 years ago.

A team from NASA and NOAA found that Earth’s “energy imbalance” doubled between 2005 and 2019. The energy imbalance is simple to understand but complex in its causes and impacts. It is the difference between the amount of energy absorbed by the Earth and the amount of energy emitted by it.

Any increase in the energy imbalance means that the entire Earth system is gaining energy, causing it to heat up.

To quantify this change, the team used data from two separate sources: clouds from NASA and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES) and a system managed by NOAA called Argo. CERES specializes in the amount of energy entering and leaving the Earth.

Most of the energy entering is in the form of solar radiation, while energy leaving the system could take various forms, including some of this solar radiation bouncing off white clouds.

Argo, meanwhile, estimates the rate of increase in ocean temperature. Ninety percent of the energy absorbed by the Earth system is absorbed in the oceans, so any significant energy imbalance would be considered ocean warming.

Graph of the radiation measured as part of the experiment. (NASA / NOAA)

The data from the two detection platforms came to the same conclusions: that the Earth is absorbing more energy than it emits, that the energy is then stored by the ocean, and that the annual amount of energy stored has increased significantly in recent times. All of these findings have important implications for the future of understanding and managing climate change.

First, understanding what caused the increase in heat absorbed in order to potentially mitigate it in the near future would be helpful. Researchers cite two main causes of the growing energy imbalance.

First, a decrease in sea ice and clouds, whose white surfaces increase the albedo of the planet and therefore the amount of energy reflected in space. Part of this decrease in cloud cover was caused by what is known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation.

In the middle of the investigation period, a warm phase of this oscillation set in, which caused a general reduction in cloud cover, and therefore a decrease in albedo.

The second cause was an increase in greenhouse gases caused by human emissions and water vapor, which can prevent specific types of radiation from escaping, thereby increasing the amount of overall energy in the system. Thus, our own emissions make it more difficult to dissipate heat from the Earth.

The consequences of such a change in energy imbalance are somewhat less clear, as is the case with most climate science. It is possible that this heat-trapping effect will accelerate the melting of polar ice caps, thereby accelerating the rise in sea level that many scientists fear will occur over the next 100 years.

Alternatively, higher ocean temperatures could mean more acidic oceans, which has its own impact on ecosystems that depend on ocean chemistry.

(NOAA / Thomas G. Andrews)(NOAA / Thomas G. Andrews)

IMAGE: Over the course of a year, the orientation of the axis remains fixed in space, producing changes in the distribution of solar radiation. These changes in the radiation pattern reaching the Earth’s surface cause the seasons to change.

Regardless of the consequences, this research is another data point in the argument that climate change is real and that humans are the cause.

It’s also something we could potentially reverse in our efforts to tackle climate change on a global scale. It is therefore worth keeping an eye on the overall energy imbalance for the foreseeable future.

This article was originally published by Universe Today. Read the original article.

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