NASA Says Humans Are Throwing Off The Earth's Energy Budget

NASA says that the Earth has an energy budget and that the planet constantly tries to balance the flow of energy into and out of its systems. However, the space agency says direct observations have confirmed that humans are throwing off that energy budget's balance causing the planet to warm. Radiative energy enters Earth's system from the sunlight that shines on the planet, and some of that energy reflects off the earth's surface or atmosphere and back into space.

The remainder of that energy gets absorbed, heats the planet, and is emitted as thermal radiative energy. Eventually, that radiative energy heads toward space, and some of it gets reabsorbed by clouds and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. That absorbed energy can be emitted back towards Earth, where it warms the surface even more. NASA says adding more components that absorb radiation such as greenhouse gases or removing those that reflect it like aerosols throw off the planet's energy balance.

The thrown-off energy balance leads to more energy being absorbed by Earth rather than escaping into space, a process known as radiative forcing. NASA says radiative forcing is the dominant white human activities impact the climate. NASA climate modeling has predicted human activities are causing the release of greenhouse gases and aerosols that affect the planet's energy budget. NASA confirmed those predictions with direct observations for the first time showing radiative forcings are increasing due to human actions.

NASA researcher Ryan Kramer says that this is the first calculation of the total radiative forcing of Earth using global observations and accounting for the effects of aerosols and greenhouse gases. Kramer says it's direct evidence that human activities are causing changes to the energy budget of the planet. Some of the data NASA gathered for the study came from its Clouds and the Earth's Radiant Energy Systems (CERES) project that studies the flow of radiation at the top of the Earth's atmosphere. Ultimately, NASA researchers found human activities have caused the radiative forcing of the Earth to increase by about 0.5 watts per square meter between 2003 and 2018.