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Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 11, issue 24 | Copyright
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 11, 13421-13449, 2011
https://doi.org/10.5194/acp-11-13421-2011
© Author(s) 2011. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research article 22 Dec 2011

Research article | 22 Dec 2011

Earth's energy imbalance and implications

J. Hansen1,2, M. Sato1,2, P. Kharecha1,2, and K. von Schuckmann3 J. Hansen et al.
  • 1NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York, NY 10025, USA
  • 2Columbia University Earth Institute, New York, NY 10027, USA
  • 3Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, LOCEAN Paris, hosted by Ifremer, Brest, France

Abstract. Improving observations of ocean heat content show that Earth is absorbing more energy from the Sun than it is radiating to space as heat, even during the recent solar minimum. The inferred planetary energy imbalance, 0.58 ± 0.15 W m−2 during the 6-yr period 2005–2010, confirms the dominant role of the human-made greenhouse effect in driving global climate change. Observed surface temperature change and ocean heat gain together constrain the net climate forcing and ocean mixing rates. We conclude that most climate models mix heat too efficiently into the deep ocean and as a result underestimate the negative forcing by human-made aerosols. Aerosol climate forcing today is inferred to be −1.6 ± 0.3 W m−2, implying substantial aerosol indirect climate forcing via cloud changes. Continued failure to quantify the specific origins of this large forcing is untenable, as knowledge of changing aerosol effects is needed to understand future climate change. We conclude that recent slowdown of ocean heat uptake was caused by a delayed rebound effect from Mount Pinatubo aerosols and a deep prolonged solar minimum. Observed sea level rise during the Argo float era is readily accounted for by ice melt and ocean thermal expansion, but the ascendency of ice melt leads us to anticipate acceleration of the rate of sea level rise this decade.

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