11 Apr 2024
 | 11 Apr 2024
Status: this preprint is open for discussion and under review for Atmospheric Measurement Techniques (AMT).

Sampling the diurnal and annual cycles of the Earth’s energy imbalance with constellations of satellite-borne radiometers

Thomas Hocking, Thorsten Mauritsen, and Linda Megner

Abstract. The Earth's energy imbalance, i.e. the difference between incoming solar radiation and outgoing reflected and emitted radiation, is the one quantity that ultimately controls the evolution of our climate system. Despite its importance, the exact magnitude of the energy imbalance is not well known, and because it is a small net difference of about 1 Wm-2 between two large fluxes (approximately 340 Wm-2), it is challenging to measure directly. There has recently been a renewed interest in applying wide-field-of-view radiometers onboard satellites to measure the outgoing radiation, and hence deduce the global annual mean energy imbalance. Here we investigate how to sample, using a limited number of satellites, in order to correctly determine the global annual mean imbalance. We simulate satellites in polar (90° inclination), sun-synchronous (98°) and precessing orbits (73°, 82°), as well as constellations of these types of satellite orbits. We find that no single satellite provides sufficient sampling, both globally and of the diurnal and annual cycles, to reliably determine the global annual mean. If sun-synchronous satellites are used, at least six satellites are required for an uncertainty below 1 Wm-2. One precessing satellite combined with one polar satellite results in an uncertainty of 0.07 to 0.08 Wm-2, and a combination of two or three polar satellites results in uncertainties of 0.08 Wm-2 or 0.02 Wm-2, respectively. In conclusion, at least two satellites that complement each other are necessary in order to ensure global coverage and achieve sampling uncertainty well below the current estimate of the energy imbalance.

Publisher's note: Copernicus Publications remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims made in the text, published maps, institutional affiliations, or any other geographical representation in this preprint. The responsibility to include appropriate place names lies with the authors.
Thomas Hocking, Thorsten Mauritsen, and Linda Megner

Status: open (until 15 Jun 2024)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
Thomas Hocking, Thorsten Mauritsen, and Linda Megner
Thomas Hocking, Thorsten Mauritsen, and Linda Megner


Total article views: 205 (including HTML, PDF, and XML)
HTML PDF XML Total BibTeX EndNote
166 32 7 205 9 6
  • HTML: 166
  • PDF: 32
  • XML: 7
  • Total: 205
  • BibTeX: 9
  • EndNote: 6
Views and downloads (calculated since 11 Apr 2024)
Cumulative views and downloads (calculated since 11 Apr 2024)

Viewed (geographical distribution)

Total article views: 204 (including HTML, PDF, and XML) Thereof 204 with geography defined and 0 with unknown origin.
Country # Views %
  • 1
Latest update: 23 May 2024
Short summary
The imbalance between the energy the Earth absorbs from the Sun and the energy the Earth emits back to space gives rise to climate change, but measuring the small imbalance is challenging. We simulate satellites in various orbits to investigate how well they sample the imbalance, and find that the best option is to combine at least two satellites that see complementary parts of the Earth and cover the daily and annual cycles. This information is useful when planning future satellite missions.