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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1997 Aug 5;94(16):8335-42.

Can increasing carbon dioxide cause climate change?

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Building 54, Room 1720, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.


The realistic physical functioning of the greenhouse effect is reviewed, and the role of dynamic transport and water vapor is identified. Model errors and uncertainties are quantitatively compared with the forcing due to doubling CO2, and they are shown to be too large for reliable model evaluations of climate sensitivities. The possibility of directly measuring climate sensitivity is reviewed. A direct approach using satellite data to relate changes in globally averaged radiative flux changes at the top of the atmosphere to naturally occurring changes in global mean temperature is described. Indirect approaches to evaluating climate sensitivity involving the response to volcanic eruptions and Eocene climate change are also described. Finally, it is explained how, in principle, a climate that is insensitive to gross radiative forcing as produced by doubling CO2 might still be able to undergo major changes of the sort associated with ice ages and equable climates.

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