Earth’s Energy Imbalance and Energy Flows through the Climate System

Description:

Governments all over the world have recognized anthropogenic climate change as a major threat to our livelihoods, economy, and ecological treasures. Measuring Earth’s energy imbalance associated with greenhouse gas forcing of the Earth system is a fundamental aspect of tracking the rate of climate change. Understanding the changes and variability in flows of energy into and through the climate system represents a key challenge in advancing our knowledge of future climate change. The contributions in this special collection consolidate and advance the current knowledge on Earth’s energy imbalance and energy flows through the climate system through observational and modelling studies, including: intercomparisons of upper-ocean heat uptake in a multitude of data products; the introduction of Deep SOLO autonomous floats to measure the ocean’s temperature below 2000 meters depth; characterizing heat flows in the atmosphere and in the ocean; assessing regional energy budgets, such as for the Arctic; establishing linkages to the global water cycle; examining the role of cloud types on radiative effects; and utilizing spectral signatures to better understand the spatio-temporal variability in radiation fluxes at Earth’s surface and top of atmosphere. Research into Earth’s energy imbalance is an interdisciplinary research field, connecting the different components of our climate system with phenomena that act on numerous timescales and have direct consequences for global and regional sea level, surface temperatures, weather patterns, and the potential for dramatic future impacts on the habitability of our planet. This special collection is one of the outcomes of the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) workshop The Earth’s Energy Imbalance and its implications held in Toulouse, France, in November 2018. The WCRP has identified the improved quantification and understanding of Earth’s energy imbalance and its spatio-temporal variability to be major challenges in contemporary climate research across disciplines and provides a strong motivation for this special collection.

Collection organizers:
Maria Hakuba, Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Caltech
Matt Palmer, Met Office Hadley Centre and University of Bristol
Seiji Kato, NASA Langley Research Center

Earth’s Energy Imbalance and Energy Flows through the Climate System

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Wouter Dorigo
,
Stephan Dietrich
,
Filipe Aires
,
Luca Brocca
,
Sarah Carter
,
Jean-François Cretaux
,
David Dunkerley
,
Hiroyuki Enomoto
,
René Forsberg
,
Andreas Güntner
,
Michaela I. Hegglin
,
Rainer Hollmann
,
Dale F. Hurst
,
Johnny A. Johannessen
,
Christian Kummerow
,
Tong Lee
,
Kari Luojus
,
Ulrich Looser
,
Diego G. Miralles
,
Victor Pellet
,
Thomas Recknagel
,
Claudia Ruz Vargas
,
Udo Schneider
,
Philippe Schoeneich
,
Marc Schröder
,
Nigel Tapper
,
Valery Vuglinsky
,
Wolfgang Wagner
,
Lisan Yu
,
Luca Zappa
,
Michael Zemp
, and
Valentin Aich

ABSTRACT

Life on Earth vitally depends on the availability of water. Human pressure on freshwater resources is increasing, as is human exposure to weather-related extremes (droughts, storms, floods) caused by climate change. Understanding these changes is pivotal for developing mitigation and adaptation strategies. The Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) defines a suite of essential climate variables (ECVs), many related to the water cycle, required to systematically monitor Earth’s climate system. Since long-term observations of these ECVs are derived from different observation techniques, platforms, instruments, and retrieval algorithms, they often lack the accuracy, completeness, and resolution, to consistently characterize water cycle variability at multiple spatial and temporal scales. Here, we review the capability of ground-based and remotely sensed observations of water cycle ECVs to consistently observe the hydrological cycle. We evaluate the relevant land, atmosphere, and ocean water storages and the fluxes between them, including anthropogenic water use. Particularly, we assess how well they close on multiple temporal and spatial scales. On this basis, we discuss gaps in observation systems and formulate guidelines for future water cycle observation strategies. We conclude that, while long-term water cycle monitoring has greatly advanced in the past, many observational gaps still need to be overcome to close the water budget and enable a comprehensive and consistent assessment across scales. Trends in water cycle components can only be observed with great uncertainty, mainly due to insufficient length and homogeneity. An advanced closure of the water cycle requires improved model–data synthesis capabilities, particularly at regional to local scales.

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