Climate Dynamics

, Volume 40, Issue 11–12, pp 3107–3134 | Cite as

The global energy balance from a surface perspective

  • Martin WildEmail author
  • Doris Folini
  • Christoph Schär
  • Norman Loeb
  • Ellsworth G. Dutton
  • Gert König-Langlo


In the framework of the global energy balance, the radiative energy exchanges between Sun, Earth and space are now accurately quantified from new satellite missions. Much less is known about the magnitude of the energy flows within the climate system and at the Earth surface, which cannot be directly measured by satellites. In addition to satellite observations, here we make extensive use of the growing number of surface observations to constrain the global energy balance not only from space, but also from the surface. We combine these observations with the latest modeling efforts performed for the 5th IPCC assessment report to infer best estimates for the global mean surface radiative components. Our analyses favor global mean downward surface solar and thermal radiation values near 185 and 342 Wm−2, respectively, which are most compatible with surface observations. Combined with an estimated surface absorbed solar radiation and thermal emission of 161 and 397 Wm−2, respectively, this leaves 106 Wm−2 of surface net radiation available globally for distribution amongst the non-radiative surface energy balance components. The climate models overestimate the downward solar and underestimate the downward thermal radiation, thereby simulating nevertheless an adequate global mean surface net radiation by error compensation. This also suggests that, globally, the simulated surface sensible and latent heat fluxes, around 20 and 85 Wm−2 on average, state realistic values. The findings of this study are compiled into a new global energy balance diagram, which may be able to reconcile currently disputed inconsistencies between energy and water cycle estimates.


Earth Radiation Budget Surface energy balance Global climate models Global energy balance Surface/Satellite observations CMIP5/IPCC-AR5 model evaluation 



This study is supported by the National Centre for Competence in Climate Research (NCCR Climate) of the Swiss National Science Foundation as part of the NCCR Project HyClim. We are grateful to Prof. Atsumu Ohmura for numerous discussions and for his leadership in the establishment of GEBA and BSRN. We highly acknowledge Barbara Schär for the design of the global energy balance figure. We would like to thank Dr. Guido Muller for processing the BSRN data and Dr. Urs Beyerle and Dr. Thierry Corti for all their efforts to download the immense CMIP5 dataset. We acknowledge the international modeling groups for providing their data for analysis, the Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison (PCMDI) for collecting and archiving the model data, the JSC/CLIVAR Working Group on Coupled Modelling (WGCM) and their Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP) and Climate Simulation Panel for organizing the model data analysis activity, and the IPCC WG1 TSU for technical support. The IPCC Data Archive at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is supported by the Office of Science, U.S. Department of Energy. We would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge many hard working site scientists, as listed in BSRN data used in this study are available at We dedicate this study to our dear friend and colleague Ellsworth G. Dutton, who passed away the day this paper was accepted. His enthusiasm and devotion as BSRN project manager over 20 years was invaluable for the success of BSRN.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Martin Wild
    • 1
    Email author
  • Doris Folini
    • 1
  • Christoph Schär
    • 1
  • Norman Loeb
    • 2
  • Ellsworth G. Dutton
    • 3
  • Gert König-Langlo
    • 4
  1. 1.Institute for Atmospheric and Climate ScienceETH ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  2. 2.NASA Langley Research CenterHamptonUSA
  3. 3.NOAA/ESRLBoulderUSA
  4. 4.Alfred Wegener InstituteBremerhavenGermany

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