Anthropogenic activity has disrupted Earth’s energy balance

Written by
Liz Fuller-Wright
Liz Fuller-Wright, Office of Communications
Aug. 10, 2021

The Earth’s energy balance is out of whack.

Normally, the energy the sun sends to Earth is equaled by the energy sent back into space — either as reflected solar radiation or emitted infrared radiation. 

But for decades, the Earth hasn't radiated enough energy back into space. This has added energy to worldwide climate systems, leading to higher temperatures, rising sea levels, floods, droughts, more powerful blizzards and hurricanes, and deadlier extreme events. 

“Until now, scientists have believed that because of the short observational record, we can’t deduce if the increase in the imbalance is due to humans or climatic ‘noise,’” said Shiv Priyam Raghuraman a graduate student in atmospheric and oceanic sciences (AOS) at Princeton and the lead author of a new study. “Our study shows that even with the given observational record, it is almost impossible to have such a large increase in the imbalance just by Earth doing its own oscillations and variations.”

He added: “It is exceptionally unlikely — less than 1% probability — that this trend can be explained by natural variations in the climate system.”

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