Continental heat storage: contributions from the ground, inland waters, and permafrost thawing


Heat storage within the Earth system is a fundamental metric for understanding climate change. The current energy imbalance at the top of the atmosphere causes changes in energy storage within the ocean, the atmosphere, the cryosphere, and the continental landmasses. After the ocean, heat storage in land is the second largest term of the Earth heat inventory, affecting physical processes relevant to society and ecosystems, such as the stability of the soil carbon pool. Here, we present an update of the continental heat storage, combining for the first time the heat in the land subsurface, inland water bodies, and permafrost thawing. The continental landmasses stored 23.8 ± 2.0 × 1021 J during the period 1960–2020, but the distribution of heat among the three components is not homogeneous. The sensible diffusion of heat through the ground accounts for ∼90 % of the continental heat storage, with inland water bodies and permafrost degradation (i.e. latent heat) accounting for ∼0.7 % and ∼9 % of the continental heat, respectively. Although the inland water bodies and permafrost soils store less heat than the solid ground, we argue that their associated climate phenomena justify their monitoring and inclusion in the Earth heat inventory.

Earth System Dynamics