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Earth's energy is out of balance: more is absorbed from the sun than emitted back to space.
Courtesy of NASA

“Missing” Heat May Affect Future Climate Change

Scientists know that more of the Sun’s energy gets to our planet than leaves. It hasn’t always been this way. More energy is sticking around as heat because there are more heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the air than there used to be. That’s causing global warming.

Where does the energy go? Scientists would like to know. They have been looking for heat energy in the atmosphere and ocean using satellites, ocean floats, and other instruments. But they can’t seem to find all the heat. In fact, they can only find about half of it. If the energy came to Earth and has not left, then it must be around here somewhere, but where?

Lots of heat might be lurking in places that we can’t watch with satellites or other instruments. The deep ocean is one of those places. Scientists have found warmer ocean water as much as 6,500 feet deep in the ocean (about 2,000 meters). There may be more heat even deeper in the ocean, but we don’t have a way to measure it.

It is important to measure where energy goes on Earth so that we can understand how climate is changing. Scientists are hoping that when we invent new ways to measure heat in the deep ocean and other places, we will be able to solve the mystery of the missing heat.

Last modified May 21, 2010 by Lisa Gardiner.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA