A new study has illustrated that the imbalance of energy on Earth is considered the most crucial metric to gauge the size and impacts of climate change.
The study was reported recently in the first issue of Environmental Research: Climate, a new open-access journal.
Distinguished scholar at the National Center of Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and highly quoted lead author Kevin Trenberth along with climate scientist and co-author Lijing Cheng have created an entirely new inventory of the several sources of surplus heat produced on Earth.
He studied energy changes from 2000 to 2019 from the land, atmosphere, ocean and ice as climate system components and compared this to the radiation at the top of the Earth’s atmosphere to identify the imbalance.
The net energy imbalance is calculated by looking at how much heat is absorbed from the Sun and how much is able to radiate back into space it is not yet possible to measure the imbalance directly, the only practical way to estimate it is through an inventory of the changes in energy.
Kevin Trenberth, Study Lead Author, National Center for Atmospheric Research
Comprehending the net energy gain of the climate system gathered from all origins, how much surplus energy there is and where it has been redistributed in the Earth system is a crucial factor when it comes to informing and thus fulfilling the climate crisis.
Earlier, the central point of climate research has been on the increase of the global mean surface temperature on Earth. But this is just one result of the total energy imbalance experienced on Earth.
Surplus energy impacts weather systems, thereby directly increasing the number or intensity of extreme weather events like heavy rains and flooding, droughts, hurricanes, wildfires, and heat waves.
Weather events tend to shift the energy around and aid the climate system to overcome energy by radiating it into space, which also in turn impacts the increase in temperature throughout the world.
Furthermore, the study disclosed that 93% of surplus heat from the imbalance is in the Earth’s oceans. This increases their entire temperature and sea level which led to 2021 being the hottest global ocean recorded year so far.
Modeling the Earth energy imbalance is challenging, and the relevant observations and their synthesis need improvements. Understanding how all forms of energy are distributed across the globe and are sequestered or radiated back to space will give us a better understanding of our future.
Lijing Cheng, Study Co-Author, Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences
Trenberth, K E & Cheng, L (2022) A perspective on climate change from Earth’s energy imbalance. Environmental Research: Climate. doi.org/10.1088/2752-5295/ac6f74.