Since 2005, the amount of heat trapped by the Earth has roughly doubled, according to a new study by NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers.
This is contributing to warming oceans, air, and land, the scientists write in the study, published this week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. "The magnitude of the increase is unprecedented," NASA scientist and lead author of the study Norman Loeb told The Washington Post. "The Earth is warming faster than expected."
Using satellite data, the researchers measured the planet's energy imbalance, which is the difference between how much energy the planet absorbs from the sun and how much is radiated back into space. If there is a positive imbalance, the Earth is absorbing more heat than it is losing; in 2005, there was a positive imbalance of about half a watt per square meter of energy from the sun, and in 2019, the positive imbalance was one watt per square meter, the Post reports.
"It is a massive amount of energy," NOAA oceanographer Gregory Johnson, a co-author of the study, told the Post, adding that this energy increase is equivalent to everyone on Earth using 20 electric tea kettles at the same time. The team needs to conduct more research to determine the factors behind the increase, but there is evidence that a rise in greenhouse gas emissions and decrease in cloud cover and sea ice could be part of it, as well as cyclical variations in the climate. One thing is certain, Johnson said: "We're responsible for some of it."