NASA and NOAA study finds Earth's energy imbalance has doubled since 2005

Scientists at NASA and NOAA have published a new study that found the energy imbalance of the Earth has almost doubled during a 14-year period between 2005 and 2019. NASA says that our planet's climate is a balance between how much energy from the sun is absorbed in the atmosphere and at the surface, along with how much thermal infrared radiation the planet emits into space. A positive energy imbalance means the Earth is gaining energy resulting in increasing temperatures around the planet.

Researchers on the project compared data from two independent measurements. Measurements were taken by the NASA Clouds and being Earth's Radiant Energy System suite of satellite sensors to measure how much energy is entering and leaving the Earth system. Data was also gathered from ocean floats around the world called Argo.

The float system allows accurate estimates of the rate of heating for the oceans around the world. About 90 percent of excess energy from an energy imbalance ends up in the ocean. Researchers say that overall incoming and outgoing radiation trends should agree broadly with changes in ocean heat content. Researcher Norman Loeb says the two very independent ways of looking at changes in the planet's energy imbalance are in "really, really good agreement."

Both measurement systems show a "very large trend," giving the researchers confidence that they are seeing a real phenomenon and not instrumental artifact. The study says that increases in greenhouse gas emissions due to human activity are trapping heat in the atmosphere and capturing outgoing radiation that would typically escape into space. The warming drives other changes, including the melting of snow and ice, which increases water vapor and changes clouds that can lead to further increased warming.

The study has determined that the doubling of the energy imbalance is partially a result of increased greenhouse gases from a human activity known as anthropogenic forcing along with increases in water vapor trapping more outgoing longwave radiation. The team also believes that a flip of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation from a cool phase to a warm phase played a major role in intensifying the energy imbalance.