Equilibrium and transient climatic warming induced by increased atmospheric CO2

M. E. Schlesinger

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The change in the Earth's equilibrium global mean surface temperature induced by a doubling of the CO2 concentration has been estimated as 0.2 to 10 K by surface energy balance models, 0.5 to 4.2 K by radiative-convective models, and 1.3 to 4.2 K by general circulation models. These wide ranges are interpreted and quantified here in terms of the direct radiative, forcing of the increased CO2, the response of the climate system in the absence of feedback processes, and the feedbacks of the climate system. It is the range in the values of these feedbacks that leads to the ranges in the projections of the global mean surface warming. The time required for a CO2-induced climate change to reach equilibrium has been characterized by an e-folding time τe with values estimated by a variety of climate/ocean models as 10 to 100 years. Analytical and numerical studies show that this wide range is due to the strong dependence of τe on the equilibrium sensitivity of the climate model and on the effective vertical thermal diffusivity of the ocean model. A coupled atmosphere-ocean general circulation model simulation for doubled CO2 suggestes that, as a result of the transport of the CO2-induced surface heating into the interior of the ocean, τe ≅ 50 to 100 years. Theoretical studies for a realistic CO2 increase between 1850 and 1980 indicate that this sequestering of heat into the ocean's interior is responsible for the concomittant warming being only about half that which would have occurred in the absence of the ocean. These studies also indicate that the climate sytem will continue to warm towards its as yet unrealized equilibrium temperature change, even if there is no further increase in the CO2 concentration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)35-51
Number of pages17
JournalClimate Dynamics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 1 1986

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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