CERES Radiation Balance

  • Released Friday, February 21, 2020
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The Clouds and the Earth’s Energy Radiant System (CERES) instrument is a key component of NASA’s Earth Observing System, with six active CERES instruments on satellites orbiting Earth and taking data.  

For Earth’s temperature to be stable over long periods of time, absorbed solar and emitted thermal radiation must be equal. Increases in greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide and methane, trap emitted thermal radiation from the surface and reduce how much is lost to space, resulting in a net surplus of energy into the Earth system. Most of the extra energy ends up being stored as heat in the ocean and the remainder warms the atmosphere and land, and melts snow and ice. As a consequence, global mean surface temperature increases and sea levels rise.

Much like a pulse or heartbeat, CERES monitors reflected solar and emitted thermal infrared radiation, which together with solar irradiance measurements is one of Earth’s ‘vital signs.’ Better understanding Earth’s energy balance enables us to be informed and adapt to a changing world.

Incoming solar radiation is measured from total solar irradiance instruments while CERES observes reflected solar and emitted thermal infrared radiation. The difference between incoming and reflected solar radiation is absorbed solar radiation. Red indicates energy being added while blue indicates a loss (reflected or emitted) of energy.

A plotted view of planetary heat uptake since the beginning of the CERES data record showing an oscillating, monthly mean (yellow) and twelve-month running average (red line). These data show how much energy is added (absorbed) by Earth during the CERES period.


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NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio

Release date

This page was originally published on Friday, February 21, 2020.
This page was last updated on Wednesday, November 15, 2023 at 12:14 AM EST.

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