The influence of internal variability on Earth's energy balance framework and implications for estimating climate sensitivity Institutional Repository Document uri icon


  • Abstract. Our climate is constrained by the balance between solar energy absorbed by the Earth and terrestrial energy radiated to space. This energy balance has been widely used to infer equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) from observations of 20th-century warming. Such estimates yield lower values than other methods and these have been influential in pushing down the consensus ECS range in recent assessments. Here we test the method using a 100-member ensemble of the MPI-ESM1.1 climate model simulations of the period 18502005 with known forcing. We calculate ECS in each ensemble member using energy balance, yielding values ranging from 2.1 to 3.9K. The spread in the ensemble is related to the central hypothesis in the energy budget framework: that global average surface temperature anomalies are indicative of anomalies in outgoing energy (either of terrestrial origin or reflected solar energy). We find that assumption is not well supported over the historical temperature record in the model ensemble or more recent satellite observations. We find that framing energy balance in terms of 500-hPa tropical temperature better describes the planet's energy balance.

altmetric score

  • 39.988

author list (cited authors)

  • Dessler, A. E., Mauritsen, T., & Stevens, B.

citation count

  • 0

complete list of authors

  • Dessler, Andrew E||Mauritsen, Thorsten||Stevens, Bjorn

Book Title

  • EGUsphere

publication date

  • January 2018