(ORDO NEWS) — Life on Earth depends on many delicately balanced, intertwined cycles that come together to create exactly the conditions we need to thrive. One of these cycles is the subtle energy system of the Earth – the inputs and outputs of energy received from the Sun.
This cycle determines all the planet’s climate systems. On Mars, the seasonal variation in the energy imbalance about 15.3 percent between seasons on Mars compared to 0.4 percent on Earth is believed to cause the planet’s infamous epic dust storms.
For at least some of the time, until the 1750s, this unsustainable energy cycle on Earth was relatively balanced. But now we have created an imbalance that has recently doubled in just 15 years.
“The net energy imbalance is calculated by taking into account how much heat is absorbed by the Sun and how much can be radiated back into space,” explains atmospheric scientist Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
“While it is not possible to measure imbalance directly, the only practical way to assess it is to take inventory of changes in energy.”
Trenberth and Chinese Academy of Sciences atmospheric physicist Lijing Cheng analyzed data on all components of the climate system: land, ice, ocean and atmosphere between 2000 and 2019 to make an inventory of these changes.
Earth’s atmosphere reflects almost a quarter of the energy that hits it, unlike the Moon, which absorbs all of the sun’s energy, resulting in surface temperatures of around 100°C.
Most of this energy is then absorbed by the Moon and radiated back into space as thermal infrared radiation, that is, in the form of ordinary heat.
Again, the atmosphere modifies this process here on Earth. Some molecules in our atmosphere trap this heat before it reaches space and continue to trap it.
Unfortunately for us, it’s the greenhouse gases that are currently blanketing the planet in an overly thick blanket at the top of the atmosphere.
The researchers explain in their paper that the additional trapped energy not only changes where it ends up, but also affects its surroundings on the way to its final destination.
“It is vital to understand the net energy gain, as well as how much and where heat is being redistributed within the Earth system,” they write.
“How much heat can be moved to where it can be removed from the Earth via radiation to limit warming?”
While everyone has mostly focused on raising the temperature, this is just one product of this extra energy. Only 4 percent of the energy goes into warming land, and another 3 percent into melting ice, Trenbert and Cheng found.
They found that nearly 93 percent is absorbed by the ocean, and we are already witnessing the backlash.
While less than 1 percent of excess energy circulates in our atmosphere, it is enough to directly increase the severity and frequency of extreme weather events, from droughts to floods.
However, increased atmospheric turbulence can also be beneficial.
“These weather events move energy and help the climate system get rid of energy by radiating it out into space,” the researchers explain.
Clouds and ice also help reflect solar radiation before it turns into long-wave heat that gases trap. But both reflective clouds and ice shrink due to disruptions in this energy cycle.
According to Trenbert and Cheng, there is still too much missing information for a comprehensive earth system model that accurately predicts specific outcomes beyond the short term.
But by including their Earth energy imbalance framework, which takes into account every component of the earth system, this can be improved upon.
“Modeling the Earth’s energy imbalance is challenging, and the related observations and generalizations need to be improved,” Cheng concludes.
“Understanding how all forms of energy are distributed across the globe and absorbed or radiated back into space will give us a better understanding of our future.”
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