Earth system responses to cumulative carbon emissions

Information on the relationship between cumulative fossil carbon emissions and multiple climate targets are essential to design emission mitigation and climate adaptation strategies. In this study, the transient responses in different climate variables are quantified for a large set of multi-forcing scenarios extended to year 2300 towards stabilization and in idealized experiments using the Bern3D-LPJ carbon-climate model. The model outcomes are constrained by 26 physical and biogeochemical observational data sets in a Bayesian, Monte-Carlo type framework. Cumulative fossil emissions of 1000 Gt C result in a global mean surface air temperature change of 1.88 °C (68 % confidence interval (c.i.): 1.28 to 2.69 °C), a decrease in surface ocean pH of 0.19 (0.18 to 0.22), and in steric sea level rise of 20 cm (13 to 27 cm until 2300). Linearity between cumulative emissions and transient response is high for pH and reasonably high for surface air and sea surface temperatures, but less pronounced for changes in Atlantic Meridional Overturning, Southern Ocean and tropical surface water saturation with respect to biogenic structures of calcium carbonate, and carbon stocks in soils. The slopes of the relationships change when CO2 is stabilized. The Transient Climate Response is constrained, primarily by long-term ocean heat observations, to 1.7 °C (68 % c.i.: 1.3 to 2.2 °C) and the Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity to 2.9 °C (2.0 to 4.2 °C). This is consistent with results by CMIP5 models, but inconsistent with recent studies that relied on short-term air temperature data affected by natural climate variability.

Steinacher M. & Joos F., 2015. Earth system responses to cumulative carbon emissions. Biogeosciences Discussions 12:9839-9877. Article.

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