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Analysis: How ‘carbon-cycle feedbacks’ could make global warming worse

Analysis: How ‘carbon-cycle feedbacks’ could make global warming worse

Scientists making climate-change projections have to deal with a number of uncertainties.

The amount of global warming will depend on the magnitude of future emissions, which, in turn, depends on how society grows and develops. The rate of warming will also depend on how sensitive the climate is to increased atmospheric greenhouse gases.

Yet climate change also depends on an under-appreciated factor known as “carbon-cycle feedbacks”. Accounting for uncertainties in carbon-cycle feedbacks means that the world could warm much more – or a bit less – than is commonly thought.

The carbon cycle is the collection of processes that sees carbon exchanged between the atmosphere, land, ocean and the organisms they contain. “Feedbacks” refer to how these processes could change as the Earth warms and atmospheric CO2 concentrations rise.

The commonly used warming projections – those highlighted in Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment reports – include a single best-estimate of carbon-cycle feedbacks. But they do not account for the large uncertainties in these estimates.

These uncertainties are “one of the dominant sources” of divergence between different model projectionsaccording to Dr Ben Booth and colleagues at the Met Office Hadley Centre.

Climate campaigners, such as Greta Thunberg, have also expressed concern that climate projections typically do not fully incorporate the potential range of carbon-cycle feedbacks.

This article explores the implications of carbon-cycle feedback uncertainties by examining a number of modelling studies conducted by scientists over the past decade. These studies give a similar central estimate of carbon-cycle feedbacks to those used in IPCC projections.

But, at the high end, the results show these feedbacks could push atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases much higher – meaning more warming – from the same level of emissions.

Analysis for this article shows that feedbacks could result in up to 25% more warming than in the main IPCC projections.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

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