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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


item Pielke, Roger
item Davey, Christopher
item Morgan, Jack

Submitted to: American Geophysical Union
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/18/2004
Publication Date: 5/25/2004
Citation: Pielke, R.A., Davey, C., Morgan, J.A. 2004. Assessing global warming with surface heat content. EOS, American Geophysical Union. 85:210-211.

Interpretive Summary: Global climate change is an important matter for all Earth's inhabitants, and as we move into the 21st century, we are learning more about this problem and its consequences. However, there are still many uncertainties surrounding this topic, and this paper explores the issue of how to quantitatively measure global warming at the surface of the Earth. All who have studied and explored the impact of "global warming" have suggested that measurement of air temperature alone is sufficient to capture Earth's warming response. However, since moisture in the air is an important factor in the energy balance and can affect the exchange of energy between the land and atmosphere, it must also be considered in assessments of global warming. We propose that all assessments of global warming need to consider impacts on surface heat content rather than just considering temperature to accurately reflect the response of the Earth surface to increases in atmospheric greenhouse gases.

Technical Abstract: Although climate change and variability involve all aspects of the climate system, the assessment of anthropogenically-forced climate change has focused on surface temperature as the primary metric. The term "global warming" has been used to describe the observed surface air temperature increase. However, the concept of global warming requires assessments of units of heat. Herein we show that surface air temperature alone does not capture the real changes in surface air heat content of the Earth system. Consideration of the moisture content of the surface air must also be considered to arrive at a realistic assessment of the global warming. Future assessments of global warming need to account for surface heat content in addition to just temperature.

Last Modified: 06/22/2017
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