Scripps Institution of Oceanography / University of California, San Diego
In an article in this week's issue of Science, three leading climate and atmospheric scientists argue that scientific research is lacking in several core areas concerning Earth's climate and its fundamental energy system.
In a "Perspectives" article in the journal, the scientists say that a significant gap exists in accounting for the amount of the sun's energy that is absorbed by Earth's atmosphere and surface and the amount reflected back into space.
Such information about this "energy balance" is vital, the authors say, for accurately determining how Earth's climate and temperature is changing, factors that can influence a host of important processes and patterns such as weather, sea level and precipitation, and for gaining a clear understanding of how human-produced changes are impacting climate. The authors are Robert J. Charlson of the University of Washington, Francisco P. J. Valero of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, and John H. Seinfeld at the California Institute of Technology's Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering.
The authors call for more and better research observations and models that describe the overall energy balance of Earth's system.
"If we want to contribute to the well being of humanity and to enhance its ability to live in harmony with the environment, it is essential that we gain the needed observational and theoretical knowledge that will permit the accurate description of the Earth system and its evolution," said Valero, a research scientist at Scripps Institution.
Life and most natural processes on our planet are driven almost entirely by energy arriving at Earth from space, essentially in the form of radiation from the sun. This energy is partly reflected back to space and partly absorbed by Earth's atmosphere and surface. The absorbed portion is utilized to drive the atmosphere, the oceans, climate and life itself and is finally re-radiated back to space in the form of infrared (heat) radiation.
If the solar energy absorbed by the Earth system equals the infrared energy
radiated back to space, the system is in "balance" and there is no "heating" or "cooling" of Earth.
But to better understand and characterize the complex interactions of Earth's systems-and to be able to forecast its future evolution-it is imperative to find accurate answers to the fundamental scientific questions that involve the balance between the absorbed solar radiation and the radiated infrared radiation, says Valero. Such balance is affected by natural and human-made changes that affect the interactions of radiation
(solar and infrared) with greenhouse gases, aerosols and clouds, including the effects of greenhouse gases and aerosols on clouds and the atmosphere.
In the Perspectives article, the authors point out the importance of accurate observations of Earth albedo as well as the need for the development of a strategy that facilitates research involving the interaction of radiation (both solar and infrared) with gases, aerosols and clouds.
Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego, is one of the oldest, largest, and most important centers for global science research and education in the world. Now in its second century of discovery, the scientific scope of the institution has grown to include biological, physical, chemical, geological, geophysical, and atmospheric studies of the earth as a system. Hundreds of research programs covering a wide range of scientific areas are under way today on every continent and in every ocean. The institution has a staff of more than 1,400 and annual expenditures of approximately $195 million from federal, state, and private sources. Scripps operates oceanographic research vessels recognized worldwide for their outstanding capabilities. Equipped with innovative instruments for ocean exploration, these ships constitute mobile laboratories and observatories that serve students and researchers from institutions throughout the world. Birch Aquarium at Scripps serves as the interpretive center of the institution and showcases Scripps research and a diverse array of marine life through exhibits and programming for more than 430,000 visitors each year. Learn more at scripps.ucsd.edu and follow us at Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
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