Earth’s energy imbalance removes almost all doubt from human-made climate change

9th August, 2021.      //   Climate Change  // 

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Earth’s energy system has been out of whack for decades.

The precise balance between the quantity of energy Earth gets from the sun and the amount of energy Earth releases back into space is essential for climatic stability. According to a research published Wednesday in the journal Nature Communications, this equilibrium has been thrown off in recent years, and the imbalance is rising.

Changes in Earth’s energy system will have a significant impact on the planet’s future climate and humanity’s knowledge of climate change. The Princeton University researchers who wrote the article discovered that there is a less than 1% chance that the alterations happened spontaneously.

The findings refute a fundamental argument advanced by those who do not think human activity is responsible for the majority of climate change, indicating that the planet’s energy imbalance cannot be explained only by natural fluctuations.

The study also reveals how greenhouse gas emissions and other human-caused climate change effects are disrupting the planet’s equilibrium and driving global warming, sea-level rise, and extreme weather events.

“With more and more changes to the planet, we’ve created this imbalance where we have surplus energy in the system,” according to Shiv Priyam Raghuraman, the study’s primary author and a graduate student in meteorology and oceanic sciences at Princeton. “That surplus manifests as different symptoms.”

Human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere, allowing the earth to absorb infrared radiation that would otherwise be lost to space. Melting sea ice, shifting cloud cover, and variations in the concentration of microscopic air particles known as aerosols — all of which are influenced by climate change — all indicate that Earth is refracting less of the sun’s energy back into space.

“There isn’t this equilibrium between energy coming in from the sun and energy going out,” Raghuraman stated. “The question is: Are these natural planetary variations, or is it us?”

Satellite measurements from 2001 to 2020 were utilized to demonstrate that the Earth’s energy imbalance is increasing. They then utilized a number of climate models to explore the impact of removing human-caused climate change from the equation on Earth’s energy system.

Natural variations alone could not account for the 20-year pattern, according to the researchers.

“It was almost impossible — a less than 1 percent probability — that such a large increase in the imbalance was from Earth’s own oscillations and variations,” Raghuraman added.

Although the research focused on cause and effect, Raghuraman believes the findings have important societal and policy consequences.

Oceans retain over 90% of the planet’s surplus heat, resulting in rising seas and the creation of hurricanes and other extreme weather events. The atmosphere and land absorb the remaining heat, raising global surface temperatures and contributing to the melting of snow and ice.

According to Norman Loeb, a physical scientist at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, who was not involved with the study, if Earth’s energy imbalance continues to worsen, the repercussions that are now being felt will likely be amplified.

“We’re going to see temperatures rise, sea levels rise, more snow and ice melting,” Loeb stated. “Everything you see in the news — forest fires, droughts — those just get worse if you add more heat.”

Loeb conducted a NASA-National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research that revealed the Earth’s energy imbalance nearly quadrupled between 2005 and 2019. The study was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters last month.

According to Loeb, the Princeton study backs up what he found in his own 14-year investigation, which included data from satellite sensors and a variety of ocean devices. He went on to say that human actions, or anthropogenic forcing, are clearly having an impact, but that natural variation is also likely at play. Some planetary oscillations, for example, might operate on decades-long cycles, making it difficult to discern the fingerprints of climate change.

“Anthropogenic forcing is there for sure,” he added, “but the ocean is a key player in climate and it operates on much slower time scales. Ideally, you really want to be able to have these types of measurements over 50 years or more.”