The earth catches almost twice as much heat as in 2005, according to new research, described as an “unprecedented” increase in the midst of the climate crisis.
Researchers from Nasa, the US space agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa), reported in a new study that the Earth’s energy balance approx. doubled ”from 2005 to 2019. The increase was described as“ alarming ”.
“Energy balance” refers to the difference between how much of the sun’s “radiant energy” is absorbed by the Earth’s atmosphere and surface, compared to how much “thermal infrared radiation” bounces back into space.
“A positive energy imbalance means that the Earth’s system gains energy and causes the planet to warm up,” Nasa said in a statement on this study.
Scientists determined that there was an energy balance by comparing data from satellite sensors – which track how much energy is coming in and out of the Earth’s system – and data from ocean currents.
This system of data collection floating across the globe allows for “an accurate estimate of the rate at which the world’s garden is heating up”.
Because about 90% of excess energy from an imbalance is recovered in the ocean, the satellite sensors’ data must correspond to temperature changes in the oceans.
“The two very independent ways of looking at changes in the Earth’s energy balance are in really, really good agreement, and they both show this very big trend, which gives us a great deal of confidence that what we are seeing is a real phenomenon and not just an instrumental artifact, ”said Norman Loeb, lead author and a Nasa researcher.
“The trends we found were quite alarming in a way.”
Upticks in greenhouse gas emissions keep the heat in the Earth’s atmosphere and capture radiation that would otherwise move into space. This warming is causing other changes, including ice and snow melting. An increase in water vapor and changes in clouds could further exacerbate this warming, Nasa said.
The study showed that this doubling is partly the result of an increase in greenhouse gases and water vapor as well as a decrease in clouds and ice.
Researchers also said that a “naturally occurring” shift in the Pacific from a cool phase to a warm one was likely to play a significant role in strengthening this energy balance.
“It’s probably a mixture of man-made coercion and internal variation,” Loeb said. “And during this period, they both cause warming, which leads to a rather large change in the Earth’s energy balance. The size of the increase is unprecedented. ”
However, Loeb said that this research only provides a glimpse into long-term climate change, and according to Nasa, that “it is not possible with any certainty to predict how the coming decades may look like the balance of the Earth’s energy budget”.
The study determined that unless the rate of heat absorption decreases, greater shifts in the climate should be expected.