Sensitivity of global warming to carbon emissions: Effects of heat and carbon uptake in a suite of earth system models

Richard G. Williams, Vassil Roussenov, Philip Goodwin, Laure Resplandy, Laurent Bopp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

15 Scopus citations

Abstract

Climate projections reveal global-mean surface warming increasing nearly linearly with cumulative carbon emissions. The sensitivity of surface warming to carbon emissions is interpreted in terms of a product of three terms: the dependence of surface warming on radiative forcing, the fractional radiative forcing from CO2, and the dependence of radiative forcing from CO2 on carbon emissions. Mechanistically each term varies, respectively, with climate sensitivity and ocean heat uptake, radiative forcing contributions, and ocean and terrestrial carbon uptake. The sensitivity of surface warming to fossil-fuel carbon emissions is examined using an ensemble of Earth system models, forced either by an annual increase in atmospheric CO2 or by RCPs until year 2100. The sensitivity of surface warming to carbon emissions is controlled by a temporal decrease in the dependence of radiative forcing from CO2 on carbon emissions, which is partly offset by a temporal increase in the dependence of surface warming on radiative forcing. The decrease in the dependence of radiative forcing from CO2 is due to a decline in the ratio of the global ocean carbon undersaturation to carbon emissions, while the increase in the dependence of surface warming is due to a decline in the ratio of ocean heat uptake to radiative forcing. At the present time, there are large intermodel differences in the sensitivity in surface warming to carbon emissions, which are mainly due to uncertainties in the climate sensitivity and ocean heat uptake. These uncertainties undermine the ability to predict how much carbon may be emitted before reaching a warming target.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9343-9363
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Climate
Volume30
Issue number23
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science

Keywords

  • Carbon dioxide
  • Climate change
  • Climate models
  • Climate sensitivity
  • Heating
  • Radiative forcing

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