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Journal Articles Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences Year : 2022

The changing nature of Earth's reflected sunlight

Graeme L. Stephens
  • Function : Author
Maria Z. Hakuba
  • Function : Author
Seiji Kato
  • Function : Author
Andrew Gettelman
  • Function : Author
Timothy Andrews
  • Function : Author
Jason N. S. Cole
  • Function : Author
Ulrika Willen
  • Function : Author
Thorsten Mauritsen
  • Function : Author


The increased rate of sea-level rise suggests that Earth's energy imbalance is also increasing over time. This study assesses whether 20 years of direct observations of this energy imbalance from Earth-orbiting satellites support the existence of a real trend in this imbalance and the components of it and finds. Changes to the imbalance observed are found to be consistent across multiple sources of observations. The majority of recent studies now clearly point to this energy imbalance being positive, while forced by increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, being amplified significantly by decreases to the amount of sunlight reflected by Earth to space. Here, we show that the global changes observed appear largely from reductions in the amount of sunlight scattered by Earth's atmosphere. These reductions, in turn, are found to be almost equally split between reduced reflection from the cloudy and clear regions of the atmosphere, with the latter being suggestive of reduced scattering by aerosol particles over the observational period. Climate models, however, show an almost exclusive response from clouds, and a slightly exaggerated darkening of the surface. Thus, models that match the global shortwave change do so for the wrong reasons.
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Dates and versions

insu-03847109 , version 1 (20-11-2022)



Graeme L. Stephens, Maria Z. Hakuba, Seiji Kato, Andrew Gettelman, Jean-Louis Dufresne, et al.. The changing nature of Earth's reflected sunlight. Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 2022, 478, ⟨10.1098/rspa.2022.0053⟩. ⟨insu-03847109⟩
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