Space© Unsplash

Researchers Have Recorded An Energy Imbalance On Earth That Paints A Terrifying Picture Of The Future

Salva Mubarak
Senior Features Writer

Our planet is as unique as it’s beautiful. Not only is it the only planet in the Universe to be the host of the winner of Miss Universe every single year since the pageant’s inception, but it’s also the only planet in our solar system that has the exact conditions needed for human life to exist and thrive. Whether it’s the precise tilt of our axis that prevents too many temperature extremes on the planet, or its Goldilocks position in the solar system, our planet has the balance down pat. Life on Earth depends on these delicately balanced systems that come together to produce favourable conditions that make it possible for life to exist here. One of these finely balanced systems is the amount of energy our planet receives from the sun. But if recent findings by scientists are anything to go by, this balance is severely under threat of tipping over.

On Earth, the seasonal change in energy imbalance between seasons was about 0.4% up till about 15 years ago, which is not a bad number considering Mars has an imbalance of 15.3%. This imbalance on Mars causes dangerous and huge dust storms on the planet.

According to a study, we’ve created an energy imbalance that has doubled in just 15 years.

“The net energy imbalance is calculated by looking at how much heat is absorbed from the Sun and how much is able to radiate back into space,” writes Kevin Trenberth, an atmospheric scientist from the National Centre for Atmospheric Research and the co-author of the study, “

“It is not yet possible to measure the imbalance directly, the only practical way to estimate it is through an inventory of the changes in energy.”

A year ago, NASA had also reported that the Earth has started retaining twice as much energy as it used to over the same time period.

Trenberth and his research partner Lijing Cheng, an atmospheric physicist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, reviewed data from components including land, ice, ocean, and the atmosphere, for the past two decades to arrive at this conclusion.

To break it down simply, Earth’s atmosphere reflects almost one quarter of the energy that hits it, most of this is absorbed by the Moon and radiated out into space as thermal infrared radiation. But the ever-increasing presence of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere has created a snug blanket around the planet that is catching all the heat that hits the Earth and not letting it get absorbed by the Moon and emitted out to space.

Now 4 percent of this actually goes into raising the temperatures of land and 3 percent goes into melting ice caps. But the researchers found out that 93 percent of this trapped heat is being absorbed by the ocean causing devastating harm to the marine ecosystem, including mass coral bleaching, melting sea ice, dying marine life, and an increase of carbon dioxide emissions from the perishing seagrass.

This imbalance is also enough to directly increase the severity and frequency of extreme weather events like droughts and floods.

The researchers are still working towards comprehensively analysing the imbalance and the severity of its effects if the imbalance continues to grow.

“Understanding how all forms of energy are distributed across the globe and are sequestered or radiated back to space will give us a better understanding of our future,” reads the research.