IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis Implications for Earth’s Heat Balance

To place the changes of ocean heat content in perspective, Figure 5.4 provides updated estimates of the change in heat content of various components of the Earth’s climate system for the period 1961 to 2003 (Levitus et al., 2005a). This includes changes in heat content of the lithosphere (Beltrami et al., 2002), the atmosphere (e.g., Trenberth et al., 2001) and the total heat of fusion due to melting of i) glaciers, ice caps and the Antarctic and Greenland Ice Sheets (see Chapter 4) and ii) arctic sea ice (Hilmer and Lemke, 2000). The increase in ocean heat content is much larger than any other store of energy in the Earth’s heat balance over the two periods 1961 to 2003 and 1993 to 2003, and accounts for more than 90% of the possible increase in heat content of the Earth system during these periods. Ocean heat content variability is thus a critical variable for detecting the effects of the observed increase in greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere and for resolving the Earth’s overall energy balance. It is noteworthy that whereas ice melt from glaciers, ice caps and ice sheets is very important in the sea level budget (contributing about 40%), the energy associated with ice melt contributes only about 1% to the Earth’s energy budget.

Figure 5.4

Figure 5.4. Energy content changes in different components of the Earth system for two periods (1961–2003 and 1993–2003). Blue bars are for 1961 to 2003, burgundy bars for 1993 to 2003. The ocean heat content change is from this section and Levitus et al. (2005c); glaciers, ice caps and Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets from Chapter 4; continental heat content from Beltrami et al. (2002); atmospheric energy content based on Trenberth et al. (2001); and arctic sea ice release from Hilmer and Lemke (2000). Positive energy content change means an increase in stored energy (i.e., heat content in oceans, latent heat from reduced ice or sea ice volumes, heat content in the continents excluding latent heat from permafrost changes, and latent and sensible heat and potential and kinetic energy in the atmosphere). All error estimates are 90% confidence intervals. No estimate of confidence is available for the continental heat gain. Some of the results have been scaled from published results for the two respective periods. Ocean heat content change for the period 1961 to 2003 is for the 0 to 3,000 m layer. The period 1993 to 2003 is for the 0 to 700 m (or 750 m) layer and is computed as an average of the trends from Ishii et al. (2006), Levitus et al. (2005a) and Willis et al. (2004).