Earth's Energy Budget Diagram

diagram showing Earth's energy budget in terms of incoming and outgoing radiation

Scientists have been able to document global incoming and outgoing radiation averages, which provide an understanding of how energy is absorbed, reflected, and released by Earth's atmosphere, clouds, and surface. The numbers in parentheses represent the uncertainty range, or variability, associated with these averages. 

IPCC, WG1, 2021

The upper panel of the image shows a schematic representation of Earth’s energy budget for the early 21st century, including globally averaged estimates of the individual components, in units Watts per square meter (W m-2). The image also shows the uncertainty or variability ranges (5-95% confidence), represented by the numbers in parentheses. The lower panel shows the energy budget in the absence of clouds, with otherwise identical atmospheric and surface properties. Without clouds, less solar radiation is reflected back to space globally (53 ± 2 W m–2 instead of 100 ± 2 W m–2), and overall more thermal radiation is emitted from Earth's surface and atmosphere back to space. The difference in how much incoming solar radiation reaches Earth's surface means the planet would warm substantially if there were no clouds.