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High sensitivity of future global warming to land carbon cycle processes

Booth, Ben B.B.; Jones, Chris D.; Collins, Mat; Totterdell, Ian J.; Cox, Peter M.; Sitch, Stephen; Huntingford, Chris; Betts, Richard A.; Harris, Glen R.; Lloyd, Jon. 2012 High sensitivity of future global warming to land carbon cycle processes. Environmental Research Letters, 7 (2), 024002. 8, pp. 10.1088/1748-9326/7/2/024002

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Abstract/Summary

Unknowns in future global warming are usually assumed to arise from uncertainties either in the amount of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions or in the sensitivity of the climate to changes in greenhouse gas concentrations. Characterizing the additional uncertainty in relating CO2 emissions to atmospheric concentrations has relied on either a small number of complex models with diversity in process representations, or simple models. To date, these models indicate that the relevant carbon cycle uncertainties are smaller than the uncertainties in physical climate feedbacks and emissions. Here, for a single emissions scenario, we use a full coupled climate–carbon cycle model and a systematic method to explore uncertainties in the land carbon cycle feedback. We find a plausible range of climate–carbon cycle feedbacks significantly larger than previously estimated. Indeed the range of CO2 concentrations arising from our single emissions scenario is greater than that previously estimated across the full range of IPCC SRES emissions scenarios with carbon cycle uncertainties ignored. The sensitivity of photosynthetic metabolism to temperature emerges as the most important uncertainty. This highlights an aspect of current land carbon modelling where there are open questions about the potential role of plant acclimation to increasing temperatures. There is an urgent need for better understanding of plant photosynthetic responses to high temperature, as these responses are shown here to be key contributors to the magnitude of future change.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI): 10.1088/1748-9326/7/2/024002
Programmes: CEH Topics & Objectives 2009 onwards > Biogeochemistry > BGC Topic 2 - Biogeochemistry and Climate System Processes
CEH Sections: Reynard
ISSN: 1748-9326
Additional Information. Not used in RCUK Gateway to Research.: This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Licence, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited
Additional Keywords: carbon cycle, uncertainty, climate change, plant physiology
NORA Subject Terms: Meteorology and Climatology
Atmospheric Sciences
Date made live: 09 May 2012 14:13
URI: http://nora.nerc.ac.uk/id/eprint/17973

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