Solar energy retained by Earth has doubled in fifteen years

New threat to the planet: the Earth retains twice as much heat today as it did fifteen years ago. This is what an alarming new report from NASA and the US Agency for Ocean and Atmospheric Observation reveals. The study, published this week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, showed that the energy imbalance of the Earth had doubled between 2005 and 2019. This is the difference between the amount of solar energy absorbed by the Earth and the part of this energy that our planet then rejects into space . This result is “striking”, wrote the scientists.

The subtle balance between the energy absorbed and that rejected determines the Earth’s climate. For researchers, this extra amount of energy is already having far-reaching consequences. “It will promote the rise in temperatures and the melting of snow and pack ice, which leads to a rise in sea level”, NASA scientist and lead author of the study Norman Loeb told CNN.

The oceans, the first victims of the positive energy imbalance

Using satellite data, scientists found that the Earth was gaining more energy than it should. This is called a positive energy imbalance. About 90% of this excess energy ends up in the oceans. And when the water temperature rises, it causes acidification that affects fish and all marine biodiversity. Comparing satellite data with figures from a global network of ocean sensors, the researchers observed the same trend.

This positive energy imbalance is caused in part by human activity and greenhouse gas emissions, scientists say. Snow and ice, which naturally reflect solar radiation, are melting due to global warming. “We are going to witness changes in atmospheric conditions, which implies more and more extreme events such as droughts”Norman Loeb said.

Another factor: the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, a long-term climatic phenomenon in the Pacific, which remained in a very hot phase between 2014 and 2020. The number of clouds above the water has therefore decreased, leading the ocean to absorb more radiation solar. “It is both a change of human origin and fluctuations in climatic systems which modify the composition of the atmosphere”, summarizes the author of the study.

He describes the period chosen by his team (2005-2019) as just a glimpse of the climate impact to come, adding that more studies and observations need to be done to fully understand the long-term trend. “I hope that the pace that we observe in this energy imbalance will diminish in the coming decades., concludes Norman Loeb. Otherwise, we will see even more disturbing climate change. ”

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