Two years ago, scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., released a study claiming that inconsistencies between satellite observations of Earth’s heat and measurements of ocean heating amounted to evidence of “missing energy” in the planet’s system.
Where was it going? Or, they wondered, was something wrong with the way researchers tracked energy as it was absorbed from the sun and emitted back into space?
An international team of atmospheric scientists and oceanographers, led by Norman Loeb of NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., and including Graeme Stephens of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., set out to investigate the mystery.
They used 10 years of data — spanning 2001 to 2010 — from NASA Langley’s orbiting Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System Experiment (CERES) instruments to measure changes in the net radiation balance at the top of Earth’s atmosphere. The CERES data were then combined with estimates of the heat content of Earth’s ocean from three independent ocean-sensor sources.
Their analysis, summarized in a NASA-led study published Jan. 22 in the journal Nature Geosciences, found that the satellite and ocean measurements are, in fact, in broad agreement once observational uncertainties are factored in.