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Heat stored in the Earth system 1960–2020: where does the energy go?

von Schuckmann, K., Minière, A., Gues, F., Cuesta-Valero, F. J. ORCID:, Kirchengast, G. ORCID:, Adusumilli, S., Straneo, F. ORCID:, Ablain, M. ORCID:, Allan, R. P. ORCID:, Barker, P. M. ORCID:, Beltrami, H. ORCID:, Blazquez, A. ORCID:, Boyer, T., Cheng, L. ORCID:, Church, J., Desbruyeres, D. ORCID:, Dolman, H. ORCID:, Domingues, C. M. ORCID:, García-García, A. ORCID:, Giglio, D. ORCID: , Gilson, J. E. ORCID:, Gorfer, M. ORCID:, Haimberger, L. ORCID:, Hakuba, M. Z., Hendricks, S. ORCID:, Hosoda, S., Johnson, G. C. ORCID:, Killick, R. ORCID:, King, B. ORCID:, Kolodziejczyk, N., Korosov, A. ORCID:, Krinner, G. ORCID:, Kuusela, M. ORCID:, Landerer, F. W. ORCID:, Langer, M., Lavergne, T. ORCID:, Lawrence, I. ORCID:, Li, Y., Lyman, J., Marti, F. ORCID:, Marzeion, B. ORCID:, Mayer, M., MacDougall, A. H. ORCID:, McDougall, T. ORCID:, Monselesan, D. P., Nitzbon, J. ORCID:, Otosaka, I., Peng, J. ORCID:, Purkey, S., Roemmich, D., Sato, K., Sato, K., Savita, A., Schweiger, A. ORCID:, Shepherd, A., Seneviratne, S. I. ORCID:, Simons, L., Slater, D. A., Slater, T. ORCID:, Steiner, A. K. ORCID:, Suga, T., Szekely, T., Thiery, W. ORCID:, Timmermans, M.-L., Vanderkelen, I. ORCID:, Wjiffels, S. E., Wu, T. ORCID: and Zemp, M. ORCID: (2023) Heat stored in the Earth system 1960–2020: where does the energy go? Earth System Science Data, 15 (4). pp. 1675-1709. ISSN 1866-3516

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To link to this item DOI: 10.5194/essd-15-1675-2023


The Earth climate system is out of energy balance, and heat has accumulated continuously over the past decades, warming the ocean, the land, the cryosphere, and the atmosphere. According to the Sixth Assessment Report by Working Group I of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, this planetary warming over multiple decades is human-driven and results in unprecedented and committed changes to the Earth system, with adverse impacts for ecosystems and human systems. The Earth heat inventory provides a measure of the Earth energy imbalance (EEI) and allows for quantifying how much heat has accumulated in the Earth system, as well as where the heat is stored. Here we show that the Earth system has continued to accumulate heat, with 381±61 ZJ accumulated from 1971 to 2020. This is equivalent to a heating rate (i.e., the EEI) of 0.48±0.1 W m−2. The majority, about 89 %, of this heat is stored in the ocean, followed by about 6 % on land, 1 % in the atmosphere, and about 4 % available for melting the cryosphere. Over the most recent period (2006–2020), the EEI amounts to 0.76±0.2 W m−2. The Earth energy imbalance is the most fundamental global climate indicator that the scientific community and the public can use as the measure of how well the world is doing in the task of bringing anthropogenic climate change under control. Moreover, this indicator is highly complementary to other established ones like global mean surface temperature as it represents a robust measure of the rate of climate change and its future commitment. We call for an implementation of the Earth energy imbalance into the Paris Agreement's Global Stocktake based on best available science. The Earth heat inventory in this study, updated from von Schuckmann et al. (2020), is underpinned by worldwide multidisciplinary collaboration and demonstrates the critical importance of concerted international efforts for climate change monitoring and community-based recommendations and we also call for urgently needed actions for enabling continuity, archiving, rescuing, and calibrating efforts to assure improved and long-term monitoring capacity of the global climate observing system. The data for the Earth heat inventory are publicly available, and more details are provided in Table 4.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Interdisciplinary Research Centres (IDRCs) > Walker Institute
Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO)
Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > Department of Meteorology
ID Code:111638


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