PerspectiveAtmospheric Science

Can climate feel the pressure?

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Science  12 Jun 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6240, pp. 1210-1211
DOI: 10.1126/science.aac5264

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Atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations are widely held to be the main driver of climate change through the Phanerozoic (the past 541 million years), with warm intervals corresponding to high CO2 concentrations and cold intervals having low CO2 concentrations (1) (see the figure). However, paleoclimate models often cannot match proxy estimates of temperature and precipitation unless unrealistic CO2 concentrations are prescribed (2, 3). The solution may come from an unexpected direction: atmospheric oxygen (O2), which is not a greenhouse gas and thus provides no direct greenhouse forcing. On page 1238 of this issue, Poulsen et al. (4) report model results that identify O2 as an important climate driver through its contribution to total atmospheric pressure.