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All IPCC definitions taken from Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Working Group I Contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Annex I, Glossary, pp. 941-954. Cambridge University Press.

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Total Heat Content (2011 update)

Total amount of heat from global warming that has accumulated in Earth's climate system from 1962 to 2008, from Church et al. (2011) (many thanks to Neil White from the CSIRO for sharing their data).  Also see this graphic that shows the ocean heating in two layers, 0-700 meters and 700-2000 meters deep.

Carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, and other greenhouse gases, absorb and trap heat energy that would otherwise be radiated to space, and since the input of energy from the sun is about constant on average, there is an energy imbalance and heat accumulates in Earth's climate system.  About 90% of the excess heat of global warming goes into heating the oceans, and only about 3% of global warming goes into heating the atmosphere (see summary here).  The ocean has such a high heat capacity relative to the land and atmosphere that relatively small exchanges of heat between the ocean and atmosphere can cause significant changes in the surface temperature, and this internal shuffling around of heat within our climate system is why the surface temperature record is such a noisy signal.


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