Earth's energy budget

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Earth's climate is largely determined by the planet's energy budget, i.e., the balance of incoming and outgoing radiation. It is measured by satellites and shown in W/m2.[1]

Earth's energy budget accounts for the balance between the energy that Earth receives from the Sun and the energy the Earth radiates back into outer space. Smaller energy sources, such as Earth's internal heat, are taken into consideration, but make a tiny contribution compared to solar energy. The energy budget also accounts for how energy moves through the climate system.[2] Because the sun heats the equatorial tropics more than the polar regions, received solar irradiance is unevenly distributed. As the energy seeks equilibrium across the planet, it drives interactions in Earth's climate climate system, i.e., Earth's water, ice, atmosphere, rocky crust, and all living things.[3] The result is Earth's climate.

Outgoing, longwave flux radiation at the top-of-atmosphere (26–27 Jan 2012). Heat energy radiated from Earth (in watts per square metre) is shown in shades of yellow, red, blue and white. The brightest-yellow areas are the hottest and are emitting the most energy out to space, while the dark blue areas and the bright white clouds are much colder, emitting the least energy.

Earth's energy budget depends on many factors, such as atmospheric aerosols, greenhouse gases, the planet's surface albedo (reflectivity), clouds, vegetation, land use patterns, and more. When the incoming and outgoing energy is in balance, Earth is in radiative equilibrium and the climate system will be relatively stable. Global warming occurs when earth receives more energy that it gives back to space, and global cooling takes place when the outgoing energy is greater.[4]

When the energy budget changes, there is a delay before average global surface temperature changes significantly. This is due to the thermal inertia of the oceans and the cryosphere.[5] Accurate modeling of Earth's climate requires quantification of these amounts.

Incoming, top-of-atmosphere (TOA) shortwave flux radiation, shows energy received from the sun (26–27 Jan 2012).

Energy budget[edit]

A Sankey diagram illustrating the Earth's energy budget described in this section – line thickness is linearly proportional to relative amount of energy.[6]

In spite of the enormous transfers of energy into and from the Earth, it maintains a relatively constant temperature because, as a whole, there is little net gain or loss: Earth emits via atmospheric and terrestrial radiation (shifted to longer electromagnetic wavelengths) to space about the same amount of energy as it receives via insolation (all forms of electromagnetic radiation).

To quantify Earth's heat budget or heat balance, let the insolation received at the top of the atmosphere be 100 units (100 units = about 1,360 watts per square meter facing the sun), as shown in the accompanying illustration. Called the albedo of Earth, around 35 units are reflected back to space: 27 from the top of clouds, 2 from snow and ice-covered areas, and 6 by other parts of the atmosphere. The 65 remaining units are absorbed: 14 within the atmosphere and 51 by the Earth's surface. These 51 units are radiated to space in the form of terrestrial radiation: 17 directly radiated to space and 34 absorbed by the atmosphere (19 through latent heat of condensation, 9 via convection and turbulence, and 6 directly absorbed). The 48 units absorbed by the atmosphere (34 units from terrestrial radiation and 14 from insolation) are finally radiated back to space. These 65 units (17 from the ground and 48 from the atmosphere) balance the 65 units absorbed from the sun in order to maintain zero net gain of energy by the Earth.[6]

Incoming radiant energy (shortwave)[edit]

The total amount of energy received per second at the top of Earth's atmosphere (TOA) is measured in watts and is given by the solar constant times the cross-sectional area of the Earth corresponded to the radiation . Because the surface area of a sphere is four times the cross-sectional area of a sphere (i.e. the area of a circle), the average TOA flux is one quarter of the solar constant and so is approximately 340 W/m2.[1][7] Since the absorption varies with location as well as with diurnal, seasonal and annual variations, the numbers quoted are long-term averages, typically averaged from multiple satellite measurements.[1]

Of the ~340 W/m2 of solar radiation received by the Earth, an average of ~77 W/m2 is reflected back to space by clouds and the atmosphere and ~23 W/m2 is reflected by the surface albedo, leaving ~240 W/m2 of solar energy input to the Earth's energy budget. This gives the Earth a mean net albedo (specifically, its Bond albedo) of 0.306.[1]

Earth's internal heat and other small effects[edit]

The geothermal heat flux from the Earth's interior is estimated to be 47 terawatts[8] and split approximately equally between radiogenic heat and heat leftover from the Earth's formation. This comes to 0.087 watt/square metre, which represents only 0.027% of Earth's total energy budget at the surface, which is dominated by 173,000 terawatts of incoming solar radiation.[9]

Human production of energy is even lower, at an estimated 18 TW.[citation needed]

Photosynthesis has a larger effect: photosynthetic efficiency turns up to 2% of the sunlight striking plants into biomass. 100 to 140[10] TW (or around 0.08%) of the initial energy gets captured by photosynthesis, giving energy to plants.[clarification needed]

Other minor sources of energy are usually ignored in these calculations, including accretion of interplanetary dust and solar wind, light from stars other than the Sun and the thermal radiation from space. Earlier, Joseph Fourier had claimed that deep space radiation was significant in a paper often cited as the first on the greenhouse effect.[11]

Longwave radiation[edit]

Longwave radiation is usually defined as outgoing infrared energy leaving the planet. However, the atmosphere absorbs parts initially, or cloud cover can reflect radiation. Generally, heat energy is transported between the planet's surface layers (land and ocean) to the atmosphere, transported via evapotranspiration and latent heat fluxes or conduction/convection processes.[1] Ultimately, energy is radiated in the form of longwave infrared radiation back into space.

Recent satellite observations indicate additional precipitation, which is sustained by increased energy leaving the surface through evaporation (the latent heat flux), offsetting increases in longwave flux to the surface.[12]

Earth's energy imbalance[edit]

If the incoming energy flux is not equal to the outgoing energy flux, net heat is added to or lost by the planet (if the incoming flux is larger or smaller than the outgoing respectively). A study accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters (June 2021) reported that satellite and in situ observations independently show an approximate doubling of Earth's Energy Imbalance]] from mid-2005 to mid-2019.[13]

Indirect measurement[edit]

An imbalance in the Earth radiation budget requires components of the climate system to change temperature over time. The ocean is an effective absorber of solar energy and has a far greater heat capacity than the atmosphere. The measurement of the change in temperature is very difficult since it corresponds to millidegrees over the short time frame of the ARGO measurements. Ocean heat content change (OHC) over time is same measurement as the temperature anomaly over time.

Earth's energy balance may be measured by Argo floats by measuring the temperature anomaly or equivalently, the accumulation of ocean heat content. Ocean heat content was unchanged in the northern extra-tropical ocean and in the tropical ocean during the 2005-2014 time frame. Ocean heat content increased only in the extra-tropical southern ocean.[citation needed] There is no known reason that the extra-tropical southern ocean will experience ocean heat content increases while ocean heat content remains constant over the bulk of the measured ocean. The measurement urgently requires confirmation by both longer term measurements and by an alternate method. It is useful to note that the ocean heat content anomaly of the Argo float measurement is approximately 3x1022 joules, or approximately three days of excess solar insolation over the nine-year period, or less than a ~0.1% variation of solar insolation over nine years.[citation needed]

Direct measurement[edit]

Animation of the orbits of NASA's 2011 fleet of Earth remote sensing observatories.

Several satellites directly measure the energy absorbed and radiated by Earth, and thus by inference the energy imbalance. The NASA Earth Radiation Budget Experiment (ERBE) project involves three such satellites: the Earth Radiation Budget Satellite (ERBS), launched October 1984; NOAA-9, launched December 1984; and NOAA-10, launched September 1986.[14]

NASA's Clouds and the Earth's Radiant Energy System (CERES) instruments are part of the NASA's Earth Observing System (EOS) since 1998. CERES is designed to measure both solar-reflected (short wavelength) and Earth-emitted (long wavelength) radiation.[15] Researchers have used data from CERES, AIRS, CloudSat, LandSat, and other EOS instruments to look for trends of anthropogenic radiative forcing embedded within the observed energy imbalances. They presented a model showing a rise of +0.53 W m−2 (+/-0.11 W m−2) from years 2003 to 2018; with about 20% from a decrease in reflected short-wave radiation, and the remainder from a decrease in outgoing long-wavelength radiation.[16][17][18]

Natural greenhouse effect[edit]

refer to caption and image description
Diagram showing the energy budget of Earth's atmosphere, which includes the greenhouse effect

The major atmospheric gases (oxygen and nitrogen) are transparent to incoming sunlight but are also transparent to outgoing thermal (infrared) radiation. However, water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane and other trace gases are opaque to many wavelengths of thermal radiation. The Earth's surface radiates the net equivalent of 17 percent of the incoming solar energy in the form of thermal infrared. However, the amount that directly escapes to space is only about 12 percent of incoming solar energy. The remaining fraction, 5 to 6 percent, is absorbed by the atmosphere by greenhouse gas molecules. [19]

Atmospheric gases only absorb some wavelengths of energy but are transparent to others. The absorption patterns of water vapor (blue peaks) and carbon dioxide (pink peaks) overlap in some wavelengths. Carbon dioxide is not as strong a greenhouse gas as water vapor, but it absorbs energy in wavelengths (12–15 micrometres) that water vapor does not, partially closing the "window" through which heat radiated by the surface would normally escape to space. (Illustration NASA, Robert Rohde)[20]

When greenhouse gas molecules absorb thermal infrared energy, their temperature rises. Those gases then radiate an increased amount of thermal infrared energy in all directions. Heat radiated upward continues to encounter greenhouse gas molecules; those molecules also absorb the heat, and their temperature rises and the amount of heat they radiate increases. The atmosphere thins with altitude, and at roughly 5–6 kilometres, the concentration of greenhouse gases in the overlying atmosphere is so thin that heat can escape to space.[19]

Because greenhouse gas molecules radiate infrared energy in all directions, some of it spreads downward and ultimately returns to the Earth's surface, where it is absorbed. The Earth's surface temperature is thus higher than it would be if it were heated only by direct solar heating. This supplemental heating is the natural greenhouse effect.[19] It is as if the Earth is covered by a blanket that allows high frequency radiation (sunlight) to enter, but slows the rate at which the low frequency infrared radiant energy emitted by the Earth leaves.

Climate sensitivity[edit]

A change in the incident radiated portion of the energy budget is referred to as a radiative forcing.

Climate sensitivity is the steady state change in the equilibrium temperature as a result of changes in the energy budget.

Climate forcings and global warming[edit]

Expected Earth energy imbalance for three choices of aerosol climate forcing. Measured imbalance, close to 0.6 W/m2, implies that aerosol forcing is close to −1.6 W/m2. (Credit: NASA/GISS)[21]

Climate forcings are changes that cause temperatures to rise or fall, disrupting the energy balance. Natural climate forcings include changes in the Sun's brightness, Milankovitch cycles (small variations in the shape of Earth's orbit and its axis of rotation that occur over thousands of years) and volcanic eruptions that inject light-reflecting particles as high as the stratosphere. Man-made forcings include particle pollution (aerosols) that absorb and reflect incoming sunlight; deforestation, which changes how the surface reflects and absorbs sunlight; and the rising concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, which decreases the rate at which heat is radiated to space.

A forcing can trigger feedbacks that intensify (positive feedback) or weaken (negative feedback) the original forcing. For example, loss of ice at the poles, which makes them less reflective, causes greater absorption of energy and so increases the rate at which the ice melts, is an example of a positive feedback.[20]

The observed planetary energy imbalance during the recent solar minimum shows that solar forcing of climate, although natural and significant, is overwhelmed by anthropogenic climate forcing.[21]

In 2012, NASA scientists reported that to stop global warming atmospheric CO2 content would have to be reduced to 350 ppm or less, assuming all other climate forcings were fixed. The impact of anthropogenic aerosols has not been quantified, but individual aerosol types are thought to have substantial heating and cooling effects.[21]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e "The NASA Earth's Energy Budget Poster". NASA. Archived from the original on 21 April 2014. Retrieved 20 April 2014.
  2. ^ IPCC AR5 WG1 Glossary 2013 "energy budget"
  3. ^ IPCC AR5 WG1 Glossary 2013 "climate system"
  4. ^ "Climate and Earth's Energy Budget". earthobservatory.nasa.gov. 14 January 2009. Retrieved 5 August 2019.
  5. ^ Previdi, M; et al. (2013). "Climate sensitivity in the Anthropocene". Royal Meteorological Society. 139 (674): 1121–1131. Bibcode:2013QJRMS.139.1121P. CiteSeerX 10.1.1.434.854. doi:10.1002/qj.2165.
  6. ^ a b Sharma, P.D. (2008). Environmental Biology & Toxicology (2nd ed.). Rastogi Publications. pp. 14–15. ISBN 9788171337422.
  7. ^ Wild, Martin; Folini, Doris; Schär, Christoph; Loeb, Norman; Dutton, Ellsworth G.; König-Langlo, Gert (2013). "The global energy balance from a surface perspective" (PDF). Climate Dynamics. 40 (11–12): 3107–3134. Bibcode:2013ClDy...40.3107W. doi:10.1007/s00382-012-1569-8. hdl:20.500.11850/58556. ISSN 0930-7575. S2CID 129294935.
  8. ^ Davies, J. H.; Davies, D. R. (22 February 2010). "Earth's surface heat flux". Solid Earth. 1 (1): 5–24. Bibcode:2010SolE....1....5D. doi:10.5194/se-1-5-2010. ISSN 1869-9529.Davies, J. H., & Davies, D. R. (2010). Earth's surface heat flux. Solid Earth, 1(1), 5–24.
  9. ^ Archer, David (2012). Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast, 2nd Edition (2nd ed.). ISBN 978-0-470-94341-0.
  10. ^ "Earth's energy flow - Energy Education". energyeducation.ca. Retrieved 5 August 2019.
  11. ^ Fleming, James R. (1999). "Joseph Fourier, the 'greenhouse effect', and the quest for a universal theory of terrestrial temperatures". Endeavour. 23 (2): 72–75. doi:10.1016/S0160-9327(99)01210-7.
  12. ^ Stephens, Graeme L.; Li, Juilin; Wild, Martin; Clayson, Carol Anne; Loeb, Norman; Kato, Seiji; L'Ecuyer, Tristan; Stackhouse, Paul W. & Lebsock, Matthew (2012). "An update on Earth's energy balance in light of the latest global observations". Nature Geoscience. 5 (10): 691–696. Bibcode:2012NatGe...5..691S. doi:10.1038/ngeo1580. ISSN 1752-0894.
  13. ^ Loeb, Norman G.; Johnson, Gregory C.; Thorsen, Tyler J.; Lyman, John M.; et al. (15 June 2021). "Satellite and Ocean Data Reveal Marked Increase in Earth's Heating Rate". Geophysical Research Letters. doi:10.1029/2021GL093047.
  14. ^ "GISS ICP: Effect of the Sun's Energy on the Ocean and Atmosphere". icp.giss.nasa.gov. Archived from the original on 7 July 2019. Retrieved 5 August 2019.
  15. ^ Wielicki, Bruce A.; Harrison, Edwin F.; Cess, Robert D.; King, Michael D.; Randall, David A.; et al. (1995). "Mission to Planet Earth: Role of Clouds and Radiation in Climate". Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. 76 (11): 2125–2153. Bibcode:1995BAMS...76.2125W. doi:10.1175/1520-0477(1995)076<2125:mtpero>2.0.co;2. ISSN 0003-0007.
  16. ^ Kramer, R.J., H. He, B.J. Soden, L. Oreopoulos, G. Myhre, P.M. Forster, and C.J. Smith (25 March 2021). "Observational Evidence of Increasing Global Radiative Forcing". Geophysical Research Letters. 48 (7). doi:10.1029/2020GL091585.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  17. ^ Sarah Hansen (12 April 2021). "UMBC's Ryan Kramer confirms human-caused climate change with direct evidence for first time". University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
  18. ^ "Direct observations confirm that humans are throwing Earth's energy budget off balance". phys.org. 26 March 2021.
  19. ^ a b c Lindsey, Rebecca (14 January 2009). "Climate and Earth's Energy Budget (Part 6-The Atmosphere's Energy Budget)". earthobservatory.nasa.gov. Earth Observatory, part of the EOS Project Science Office, located at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Retrieved 5 August 2019.
  20. ^ a b Lindsey, Rebecca (14 January 2009). "Climate and Earth's Energy Budget (Part 7-Climate Forcings and Global Warming)". earthobservatory.nasa.gov. Earth Observatory, part of the EOS Project Science Office, located at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Retrieved 5 August 2019.
  21. ^ a b c Hansen, James; Sato, Makiko; Kharecha, Pushker; von Schuckmann, Karina (January 2012). "Earth's Energy Imbalance". NASA.

Additional bibliography for cited sources[edit]

IPCC AR5 Working Group I Report

External links[edit]