National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2023

Closure of Earth’s global seasonal cycle of energy storage

Johnson, G.C., F.W. Landerer, N.G. Loeb, J.M. Lyman, M. Mayer, A.L.S. Swann, and J. Zhang

Surv. Geophys., doi: 10.1007/s10712-023-09797-6, View article online (open access) (2023)

The global seasonal cycle of energy in Earth’s climate system is quantified using observations and reanalyses. After removing long-term trends, net energy entering and exiting the climate system at the top of the atmosphere (TOA) should agree with the sum of energy entering and exiting the ocean, atmosphere, land, and ice over the course of an average year. Achieving such a balanced budget with observations has been challenging. Disagreements have been attributed previously to sparse observations in the high-latitude oceans. However, limiting the local vertical integration of new global ocean heat content estimates to the depth to which seasonal heat energy is stored, rather than integrating to 2000 m everywhere as done previously, allows closure of the global seasonal energy budget within statistical uncertainties. The seasonal cycle of energy storage is largest in the ocean, peaking in April because ocean area is largest in the Southern Hemisphere and the ocean’s thermal inertia causes a lag with respect to the austral summer solstice. Seasonal cycles in energy storage in the atmosphere and land are smaller, but peak in July and September, respectively, because there is more land in the Northern Hemisphere, and the land has more thermal inertia than the atmosphere. Global seasonal energy storage by ice is small, so the atmosphere and land partially offset ocean energy storage in the global integral, with their sum matching time-integrated net global TOA energy fluxes over the seasonal cycle within uncertainties, and both peaking in April.

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