Long-term climate commitments projected with climate-carbon cycle models

Plattner, G.-K.; Knutti, R.; Joos, F.; Stocker, T. F.; von Bloh, W.; Brovkin, V.; Cameron, D.; Driesschaert, E.; Dutkiewicz, S.; Eby, M.; Edwards, N. R.; Fichefet, T.; Hargreaves, J. C.; Jones, C. D.; Loutre, M. F.; Matthews, H. D.; Mouchet, A.; Muller, S. A.; Nawrath, S.; Price, A.; Sokolov, A.; Strassman, K. M. and Weaver, A. J. (2008). Long-term climate commitments projected with climate-carbon cycle models. Journal of Climate, 21(12) pp. 2721–2751.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1175/2007JCLI1905.1


Eight earth system models of intermediate complexity (EMICs) are used to project climate change commitments for the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC's) Fourth Assessment Report (AR4). Simulations are run until the year 3000 AD and extend substantially farther into the future than conceptually similar simulations with atmosphere-ocean general circulation models (AOGCMs) coupled to carbon cycle models. In this paper the following are investigated: 1) the climate change commitment in response to stabilized greenhouse gases and stabilized total radiative forcing, 2) the climate change commitment in response to earlier CO2 emissions, and 3) emission trajectories for profiles leading to the stabilization of atmospheric CO2 and their uncertainties due to carbon cycle processes. Results over the twenty-first century compare reasonably well with results from AOGCMs, and the suite of EMICs proves well suited to complement more complex models. Substantial climate change commitments for sea level rise and global mean surface temperature increase after a stabilization of atmospheric greenhouse gases and radiative forcing in the year 2100 are identified. The additional warming by the year 3000 is 0.6-1.6 K for the low-CO2 IPCC Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES) B1 scenario and 1.3-2.2 K for the high-CO2 SRES A2 scenario. Correspondingly, the post-2100 thermal expansion commitment is 0.3-1.1 m for SRES B1 and 0.5-2.2 m for SRES A2. Sea level continues to rise due to thermal expansion for several centuries after CO2 stabilization. In contrast, surface temperature changes slow down after a century. The meridional overturning circulation is weakened in all EMICs, but recovers to nearly initial values in all but one of the models after centuries for the scenarios considered. Emissions during the twenty-first century continue to impact atmospheric CO2 and climate even at year 3000. All models find that most of the anthropogenic carbon emissions are eventually taken up by the ocean (49%-62%) in year 3000, and that a substantial fraction (15%-28%) is still airborne even 900 yr after carbon emissions have ceased. Future stabilization of atmospheric CO2 and climate change requires a substantial reduction of CO2 emissions below present levels in all EMICs. This reduction needs to be substantially larger if carbon cycle-climate feedbacks are accounted for or if terrestrial CO2 fertilization is not operating. Large differences among EMICs are identified in both the response to increasing atmospheric CO2 and the response to climate change. This highlights the need for improved representations of carbon cycle processes in these models apart from the sensitivity to climate change. Sensitivity simulations with one single EMIC indicate that both carbon cycle and climate sensitivity related uncertainties on projected allowable emissions are substantial.

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