Climate Science

Life in the Long Run

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Science  12 Jun 2009:
Vol. 324, Issue 5933, pp. 1366-1367
DOI: 10.1126/science.324_1366d

The idea that we are already committed to a certain amount of surface air temperature increase and sea-level rise over the coming century, even if we could immediately halt all CO2 emissions, has become well known in scientific and science policy circles. The longer-term outlook is less well understood. Eby et al. use a complex, coupled climate-carbon cycle model to investigate how long anthropogenic climate change will persist as a function of how high the concentration of atmospheric CO2 rises. They calculate how long it will take for half of the total emissions to be removed from the atmosphere, what the maximum global average sea surface temperature increase will be, and how long it will take for 80% of that sea surface thermal anomaly to decay. The results suggest that atmospheric CO2 can persist at high concentrations for several thousand years, and that sea surface temperature increases can last many times longer than that. It looks, then, like we are in this for the long haul.

J. Climate 22, 2501 (2009).

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