Observing changes in atmospheric heat content



Globally, air temperatures near the surface over land have been rising in recent decades, and this has been presented as solid evidence of global warming. However, some scientists have argued that total heat content (energy), rather than temperature, should be used as a metric of warming trends. Surface air temperature is only one component of the energy content of the surface atmosphere—kinetic energy and latent heat also contribute. Peterson et al. present the first study to use observational data to estimate global changes in surface energy of the atmosphere over time. They include temperature, kinetic energy, and latent heat in their analysis. The authors found that total global surface atmospheric energy and heat content have increased since the 1970s, even though kinetic energy decreased slightly and in some regions latent heat declined while temperature increased.