Climate scientists study the Earth's energy balance when they try to determine how much the Earth is warming up/cooling down, where it is, when it is, and how different regions affect each other. In April 2005, the GISS completed a study of the Earth's energy balance using several different scientific tools. They used global climate models, satel lite observations, and measurements taken from ground observation at different sites. What they found was surprising. They were able to determine that the Earth's traditional energy balance is off. Scientists uncovered two alarming facts: (1) the Earth is absorbing about 0.85 watts of energy per square meter more than it is radiating back to space; and (2) a significant amount of that excess energy is residing in the oceans, which means humans have not felt the full negative impact yet of the energy stored in the ocean basins.
Although these amounts might not sound like much, scientists are very concerned because this energy imbalance is large when compared to the Earth's past. They have determined that an imbalance, for example, of one watt per square meter maintained more than 10,000 years is enough to melt ice equivalent to 0.6 miles of sea level.
Scientists also determined from this study that an extra 1°F (0.6°C) increase in the global temperature is bound to happen no matter what we do—even cutting back on adding CO2 to the atmosphere. They believe that the Earth has not increased enough in temperature since 1880 to explain the total energy imbalance. Even though some of the excess heat has gone to melt snow and ice cover and warm the ground, a huge amount has remained dormant in the oceans. Scientists believe that when this stored CO2 enters the picture, there will be an additional warming of 1 to 1.2°F (0.6-0.7°C). This lag time worries scientists. Some have expressed concern that people will not change their energy choices until they see the worst of the global warming effects, and by that time so much damage will have been done to the environment it will be irreparable.
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