AbstractClimate 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 fossilfuel carbon emissions is examined using an ensemble of Earth system models, forced either by an annual increase in atmospheric CO2 or by RCP pathways 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 our ability to predict how much carbon may be emitted before reaching a warming target.
Journal of Climate – American Meteorological Society
Published: Aug 31, 2017
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