According to a new study conducted by NASA, the amount of heat trapped by Earth’s land, ocean, and atmosphere than doubled in just 14 years. Researchers examined NASA satellite measurements that tracked how much of the Sun’s energy entered Earth’s atmosphere and how much was reflected back into space to determine how much heat the Earth was trapping. They compared this to the data from NOAA buoys that tracked ocean temperatures, giving them an idea of how much heat is absorbed by the ocean.
An energy imbalance is a difference between the amount of heat absorbed by Earth and the amount reflected back into space. In this case, they discovered that the amount of heat absorbed by Earth increased from 2005 to 2019.
Norman Loeb, a NASA researcher, and the study’s lead author said in a press release, ‘The two very independent ways of looking at changes in Earth’s energy imbalance are in very, very good agreement, and they both show this very large trend, which gives us a lot of confidence that what we’re seeing is a real phenomenon and not just an instrumental artifact’.
The researchers believe that the Earth is retaining more heat due to a combination of factors. The first is climate change caused by humans. The more greenhouse gases we emit, among other things, the more heat they trap. It gets worse when you consider that rising temperatures melt ice and snow. Ice and snow can aid in the planet’s ability to reflect heat back into space.
Another factor is natural changes to a climate pattern known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. Between 2014 and 2019, the pattern was in a ‘warm phase,’ resulting in fewer clouds. This meant that the oceans could absorb more heat. Loeb says that the combination of climate change and natural shifts has made a significant difference in the Earth’s energy balance. ‘And, during this time, they are both causing warming, which results in a fairly large change in the Earth’s energy imbalance. The magnitude of the increase has never been seen before.’