PerspectiveClimate Change

Tracking Earth's Energy

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Science  16 Apr 2010:
Vol. 328, Issue 5976, pp. 316-317
DOI: 10.1126/science.1187272

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By measuring the net radiative incoming and outgoing energy at the top of Earth's atmosphere, it is possible to determine how much energy remains in the Earth system. But where exactly does the energy go? The main energy reservoir is the ocean, which sequesters energy as heat. Because energy is exchanged between the atmosphere and the ocean, this heat can resurface at a later time to affect weather and climate on a global scale. A change in the overall energy balance will thus sooner or later have consequences for the climate. Existing observing systems can measure all the required quantities, but it nevertheless remains a challenge to obtain closure of the energy budget. This inability to properly track energy—due to either inadequate measurement accuracy or inadequate data processing—has implications for understanding and predicting future climate.