In a first-of-its-kind study, NASA calculated the driving force for each of the most recent climate changes by directly observing a satellite. And in line with what the climate has shown for decades, greenhouse gases and airborne particles, called aerosols, in the combustion of fossil fuels are part of the lion's share of today's warmth.
In other words, NASA has proven to you what drives climate change by direct observation - the gold standard in scientific research.
"I think a lot of people would be surprised that we haven't closed this small gap in our long list of evidence supporting climate change caused by humans," said Brian Soden, author of research and professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Miami at Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.
It is now common knowledge that the rapid warming of the last century is not natural. Instead, it is the result of the formation of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane, most of which come from the burning of fossil fuels.
The science of why the Earth is warming
When sunlight enters the atmosphere some of you seem to return to space without heating the Earth. The rest is absorbed by the soil and air and re-raised as heat. Some of this heat escapes back into space, but all other heat is trapped by certain molecules such as CO2, methane and water vapor. Simply put, the warmer the air is, the more the heat is trapped and the higher the temperature.
This NASA display is a simplified diagram of the planet's energy balance: The energy budget is limited between incoming (yellow) rays and outgoing (red) rays. Natural and man-made processes affect the amount of energy received and the amount returned to space.
Since the mid-1800s, CO2 emissions have risen from 280 parts per million to 415 million - an increase of 50% - and are now at the highest level at least in three million years. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing at a rate of 100 times faster than it should normally.
At the same time, suspended contaminants, called aerosols, cool the atmosphere by blocking sunlight. This unintended consequence of the Industrial Revolution proved to be helpful in hiding the heat of the heat.
While these particles have been effective in helping to withstand global warming in the middle to the end of the 20th century, their impact is diminished, since since the 1980's pollution has been steadily declining. While this is good news for health, it brings more warmth to the system.
Collectively, temperature changes have entered our atmosphere as a result of changes in the greenhouse gases and aerosols called "radiation forcing." These changes in the coercion of radiative radiation throw the earth's energy balance. That is because, in order for earth's temperatures to remain stable, the "inward energy" from the sun must be measured by the "power outage" from Earth to the atmosphere.
When those numbers are equal the Earth keeps the balance. But when greenhouse gases are generated, low-energy emissions enter the Earth's system, which warms our oceans and atmospheric air, creating inequality in the earth's energy budget.
What NASA has done in this study is calculating, or measuring, the forces of compulsory measurement in a special satellite view to determine how much each component is warming or cooling the air. Not surprisingly, they have found that radiation, which computer models have shown for decades has been warming the Earth, similar to the changes they are experiencing.
New insights from NASA
Gavin Schmidt, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, says that science has long had an indirect amount of inaccuracies in Earth's atmosphere. The unpredictable power outages shown by computer models over the decades have been evident to humankind, from the disappearance of glaciers to extreme weather disasters to warm seas.
"We have long had strong evidence that the predicted power imbalance was realistic due to the rising sea temperature content. That is a very strong indication that the beauties were predicting warmth for good reasons," Schmidt explained. He says scientists also have direct evidence that changes in greenhouse gases have been affecting the transfer and absorption of heat from the atmosphere, but only in built-up areas, not complete experiments.
Soden adds that science has strong evidence that CO2 has increased over the past century due to greenhouse gases and that laboratory measurements ensure that CO2 absorbs heat, which should in fact cause the planet to warm up at a rate that has been observed for more than a century. However, Soden says that watching the heat dissipation from space is actually a major challenge. This new study solves that challenge.
"This is the first exposure to total Earth's radiation using global observation, including the effects of aerosols and greenhouse gases," said Ryan Kramer, a paper writer and researcher at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "This is a clear indication that human activities are making a difference in the global energy budget."