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Energy imbalance: How much heat does our planet get?
Energy imbalance: How much heat does our planet get?

Well, how do you like summer? Hot? In St. Petersburg, for example, the heat can go crazy - the last few days have become the hottest in the Northern capital over the past 116 years. So that you understand, it is almost impossible to find a fan somewhere in the warehouse of St. Petersburg hardware stores.

Working in such heat is also not an easy task - I got to the computer only closer to the night, as a semblance of a gentle breeze appeared outside the window. By the way, heat, as scientists from Harvard University found out a few years ago, lowers mental activity by as much as 13%. So if it seems to you that you do not think well in the sun, be sure - it does not seem to you. In fact, such an abnormal heat is far from news for residents of many European countries.

Heat waves cover Italy, Spain, France and other countries every year, taking away a considerable number of lives, and scientists just shrug their shoulders, predicting the further consequences of climate change. Thus, the results of a new study by scientists from NASA showed that our planet receives an unprecedented amount of heat. But what is the threat?

Energy imbalance

To find out how much heat our planet is capturing, researchers from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration studied satellite measurements that tracked the amount of solar energy entering the Earth's atmosphere and returning back into space. The results obtained during the work indicated that the number of Earth's heat traps has approximately doubled since 2005, contributing to faster warming of the oceans, air and land.

I note that using satellite data, the researchers measured the so-called energy imbalance of the Earth - the difference between how much energy the planet absorbs from the Sun and how much it can radiate back into space. When the imbalance is positive, the Earth absorbs more heat than it loses, and this is the first step towards global warming and a sign that the Earth is accumulating energy.

"The magnitude of this increase is unprecedented," said Norman Loeb, lead author of the new study published in Geophysical Research Letters. "The earth is warming up faster than expected."

Energy imbalance roughly doubled between 2005 and 2019, according to The Washington Post, citing a study. The authors of the scientific work call it “a huge amount of energy equivalent to four explosions of an atomic bomb (dropped on Hiroshima) per second, or every person on Earth using 20 electric kettles at the same time.

How much heat does our planet receive?

So, the Earth receives from the Sun about 240 watts per square meter of energy. In 2005, at the very beginning of observations, our planet radiated back into space about 239.5 out of 240 watts, creating a positive imbalance of about half a watt. By the end of 2019, that gap had nearly doubled to about 1 full watt per square meter.

It is noteworthy that the oceans absorb most of this heat - about 90 percent. When the researchers compared the satellite data with temperature readings from the ocean's sensor system, they found a similar pattern.

Elizabeth Maroon, a climatologist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, who was not involved in the study, noted that the fact that the authors of the study used two different approaches to observation and came to the same conclusions lends more confidence to the results. But why did our planet get more heat?

The study points to a decrease in cloud cover and sea ice, which reflect solar energy back into space, as well as an increase in greenhouse gas emissions such as methane and carbon dioxide, as well as water vapor, which trap more heat in the earth's atmosphere. However, distinguishing human-induced change from cyclical climate change is not easy.

What is the threat of increased energy consumption?

Interestingly, the authors of the new study say the results are not particularly surprising. All the fault of the already noticeable climatic changes. And yet, 15 years of observation is clearly not enough time to establish a trend. Moreover, the energy imbalance may narrow in some years compared to others, but the overall trajectory is likely to be upward.

Other common indicators, such as air temperature, capture only part of the effect of the sun's heat.

The imbalance, the researchers write, measures “the total amount of heat that enters the Earth's climate system. This extra heat, especially in the oceans, will lead to more intense hurricanes and heatwaves.”

But despite the alarming results of scientific work, scientists will need much more time and research to determine exactly what the increased "consumption" of energy threatens our planet.

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