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Ensemble reconstruction constraints on the global carbon cycle sensitivity to climate (Abstract)

January 27, 2010

Nature 463, 527-530 (28 January 2010)

David C. Frank1,2, Jan Esper3, Christoph C. Raible2,4, Ulf Büntgen1, Valerie Trouet1, Benjamin Stocker2,4 & Fortunat Joos2,4

The processes controlling the carbon flux and carbon storage of the atmosphere, ocean and terrestrial biosphere are temperature sensitive and are likely to provide a positive feedback leading to amplified anthropogenic warming.   Owing to this feedback, at timescales ranging from interannual to the 20–100-kyr cycles of Earth’s orbital variations warming of the climate system causes a net release of CO2 into the atmosphere; this in turn amplifies warming. But the magnitude of the climate sensitivity of the global carbon cycle (termed γ), and thus of its positive feedback strength, is under debate, giving rise to large uncertainties in global warming projections8, 9. Here we quantify the median γ as 7.7 p.p.m.v. CO2 per °C warming, with a likely range of 1.7–21.4 p.p.m.v. CO2 per °C. Sensitivity experiments exclude significant influence of pre-industrial land-use change on these estimates. Our results, based on the coupling of a probabilistic approach with an ensemble of proxy-based temperature reconstructions and pre-industrial CO2 data from three ice cores, provide robust constraints for γ on the policy-relevant multi-decadal to centennial timescales. By using an ensemble of >200,000 members, quantification of γ is not only improved, but also likelihoods can be assigned, thereby providing a benchmark for future model simulations. Although uncertainties do not at present allow exclusion of γ calculated from any of ten coupled carbon–climate models, we find that γ is about twice as likely to fall in the lowermost than in the uppermost quartile of their range. Our results are incompatibly lower (P < 0.05) than recent pre-industrial empirical estimates of ~40 p.p.m.v. CO2 per °C, and correspondingly suggest ~80% less potential amplification of ongoing global warming. (Bold added).

1. Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL, Zürcherstrasse 111, CH-8903 Birmensdorf, Switzerland
2. Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Bern, Zähringerstrasse 25, CH-3012 Bern, Switzerland
3. Department of Geography, Johannes Gutenberg University, Becherweg 21, 55099 Mainz, Germany
4. Climate and Environmental Physics, Physics Institute, University of Bern, Sidlerstrasse 5, CH-3012 Bern, Switzerland

The upshot – IPCC estimates may be off by 80 percent.  Oh, my mistake….. the science is, of course,  settled 🙂

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