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Climate sensitivity in the Anthropocene

Author(s): M. Previdi | B. G. Liepert | D. T Peteet | J. Hansen | D. J Beerling | A. J. Broccoli | S. Frolking | J. N Galloway | M. Heimann | C. Le Quéré | S. Levitus | V. Ramaswamy

Journal: Earth System Dynamics Discussions
ISSN 2190-4995

Volume: 2;
Issue: 2;
Start page: 531;
Date: 2011;
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Understanding the sensitivity of Earth's climate to an imposed external forcing is one of the great challenges in science and a critical component of efforts to avoid dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Climate sensitivity (or equilibrium global surface warming) to a doubling of atmospheric CO2 has long been estimated to be about 3 °C, considering only fast climate feedbacks associated with increases in water vapor, decreases in sea ice, and changes in clouds. However, evidence from Earth's history suggests that slower surface albedo feedbacks due to vegetation change and melting of Greenland and Antarctica can come into play on the timescales of interest to humans, which could increase the sensitivity to significantly higher values, as much as 6 °C. Even higher sensitivity may result as present-day land and ocean carbon sinks begin to lose their ability to sequester anthropogenic CO2 in the coming decades. The evolving view of climate sensitivity in the Anthropocene is therefore one in which a wider array of Earth system feedbacks are recognized as important. Since these feedbacks are overwhelmingly positive, the sensitivity is likely to be higher than has traditionally been assumed.
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