Planet Earth is now trapping twice as much heat as it did 14 years ago, according to a new study that raises concerns about the possible acceleration of climate change.
For the study, the researchers looked at data from the Clouds and Earth Radiant Energy System (CERES) instrument, which operates on several NASA Earth observation satellites and measures how much energy the planet absorbs in the form of sunlight and how much of it radiates back into space in the form of infrared radiation.
The difference between incoming and outgoing energy is called energy imbalance, and research has shown that the imbalance doubled between 2005 and 2019 compared to previous years.
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The scientists used additional data from Argo, an international network of robotic sensors scattered across the world’s oceans that measure the rate at which the oceans heat up. The researchers said comparing the CERES data with the Argo data helped solidify the findings, as the world’s oceans are known to absorb up to 90% of the excess energy held by the planet.
“Two very independent approaches to studying changes in the Earth’s energy imbalance are really in good agreement with each other, and both show this very large trend,” said Norman Loeb, lead author of the new study and principal investigator for CERES at NASA. This is stated in a statement by the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. “The trends we have found are, in a sense, alarming,” he added.
Loeb and his team concluded that the increased heating is the result of both natural and anthropogenic processes. As the concentration of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane in the Earth’s atmosphere increases, the planet captures more heat.
Meanwhile, the reduction in the size of the ice sheets caused by the warming of the planet leads to the fact that less incoming energy is reflected from the planet’s surface.
But the researchers found that a natural repeating pattern called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) also contributes. The PDO cycle causes regular fluctuations in the temperature of the Pacific Ocean, with the western parts getting colder and the eastern parts heating up for ten years, followed by the opposite trend ten years later. The unusually intense PDO phase, which began around 2014, caused cloud formation over the ocean to decrease, which also led to an increase in the planet’s absorption of incoming energy, scientists said.
“This is probably a combination of anthropogenic impact and internal variability,” Loeb said, referring to the impact of human activities on heat exchange between the Earth’s atmosphere and the surrounding space environment and natural variations in the behavior of the planet’s ecosystem. “During this period, they both cause warming, which leads to a rather significant change in the Earth’s energy imbalance. The magnitude of the increase is unprecedented for this record. “
Loeb added that although the study only covers a short period of time, the rate of heat absorption suggests that the Earth’s climate is even more imbalanced than previously thought, and that worse impacts (including sharper increases in temperature and sea level) can be expected. unless the trend is reversed.
The study was published June 15 in Geophysical Research Letters.
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