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No, NASA, Earth Has NOT Been Trapping Heat at an Alarming New Rate

By Anthony Watts –

new study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters examining satellite instruments’ measurements of how Earth’s energy budget has changed, is being falsely portrayed by the media as showing human greenhouse gas emissions are trapping an record amount of heat. The data discussed in the article, titled “Satellite and Ocean Data Reveal Marked Increase in Earth’s Heating Rateassessments, does show the amount of heat “trapped” recently has increased, but the alarming implications of that fact are being misportrayed by the mainstream media.

For example, one media story from the Guardian trumpeted:

But like many climate stories in the media today, when you peel back the layers of hype and fear-mongering, you’re left with something that isn’t alarming at all.

First, the period they study is rather limited, 2005 through 2019, which less than half of the 30 time span required for a sound climate data set, according to the World Meteorological Organization.

Climatologist Dr. Roy Spencer analyzed the study and reports:

“They also point out that the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) is responsible for some of what they see in the data, while anthropogenic forcings (and feedbacks from all natural and human-caused forcings) presumably account for the rest.

One of the encouraging results for [the study] is that the rate of increase in the accumulation of radiant energy in the climate system is the same in the satellite observations as it is when computed from in situ data, primarily the Argo float measurements of the upper half of the ocean depths. It should be noted, however, that the absolute value of the imbalance cannot be measured by the CERES satellite instruments…”

In essence, what Dr. Spencer says is the data showing the rate of change is accurate as far as it goes, but the absolute value of the change can’t be accurately measured.

Concerning the media’s coverage of the study, Spencer says:

“The main problem I have is with the media reporting of these results. The animated graph in the Verge article shows a planetary energy imbalance of about 0.5 W/m2 in 2005 increasing to about 1.0 W/m2 in 2019.”

“First of all, the 0.5 to 1.0 W/m2 (Watt per square meter) energy imbalance is much smaller than our knowledge of any of the natural energy flows in the climate system. … approximately 1 part in 300. [Emphasis mine]”

“Secondly, since we don’t have good global energy imbalance measurements before this period, there is no justification for the claim, “the magnitude of the increase is unprecedented.” [Emphasis Spencer’s] To expect the natural energy flows in the climate system to stay stable to 1 part in 300 over thousands of years has no scientific basis, and is merely a statement of faith. We have no idea whether such changes have occurred in centuries past.”

“What bothers me is the alarmist language attached to (1) such a tiny number, and (2) the likelihood that no one will bother to mention the authors attribute part of the change to a natural climate cycle, the PDO.”

Indeed, the small amount of energy change of 0.5 to 1.0 watts per square meter from 2005 to 2019 cited in this study is even lower than the average change of sunlight we receive during an 11 year solar cycle.

NASA says,

“Overall, TSI varies by approximately 0.1 percent—or about 2 watts per square meter between the most and least active part of an 11-year solar cycle.” [Emphasis mine]

Data show the amount of sunlight hitting Earth naturally varies by an amount at least DOUBLE that of the energy “imbalance” estimated in this study. Also, one cannot show this imbalance is unprecedented, because no data of this type exists before 2005 to compare it to.

The hype over this study is based on nothing more than the media grabbing a few choice phrases from it and turning them into a misleading, five-alarm fire. We are being told the United States must reduce is carbon dioxide emissions based on a study with using data covering a very short time period; a study indicating such a small amount of change that it falls below the natural variance caused by the sun, the biggest driver of earth’s energy budget!

Neither this study, nor the media hype surrounding it, provide evidence the recent increase in the earth’s radiant energy is either due primarily to human causes or is catastrophic. The United States has done more than any other nation to reduce CO2 emissions during time period of of the study.

As a result, the study provides no reason for believing further reductions in America’s greenhouse gas emissions will impact the earths’ energy budget or correct any supposed energy imbalance; an imbalance than hasn’t been established, and that may not exist.


Anthony Watts is a senior fellow for environment and climate at The Heartland Institute. Watts has been in the weather business both in front of, and behind the camera as an on-air television meteorologist since 1978, and currently does daily radio forecasts. He has created weather graphics presentation systems for television, specialized weather instrumentation, as well as co-authored peer-reviewed papers on climate issues. He operates the most viewed website in the world on climate, the award-winning website