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Philos Trans A Math Phys Eng Sci. 2013 Sep 16;371(2001):20130093. doi: 10.1098/rsta.2013.0093. Print 2013 Oct 28.

Sensitivity of the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum climate to cloud properties.

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National Center for Atmospheric Research, , 1850 Table Mesa Drive, Boulder, CO 80305, USA.


The Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) was a significant global warming event in the Earth's history (approx. 55 Ma). The cause for this warming event has been linked to increases in greenhouse gases, specifically carbon dioxide and methane. This rapid warming took place in the presence of the existing Early Eocene warm climate. Given that projected business-as-usual levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide reach concentrations of 800-1100 ppmv by 2100, it is of interest to study past climates where atmospheric carbon dioxide was higher than present. This is especially the case given the difficulty of climate models in simulating past warm climates. This study explores the sensitivity of the simulated pre-PETM and PETM periods to change in cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) and microphysical properties of liquid water clouds. Assuming lower levels of CCN for both of these periods leads to significant warming, especially at high latitudes. The study indicates that past differences in cloud properties may be an important factor in accurately simulating past warm climates. Importantly, additional shortwave warming from such a mechanism would imply lower required atmospheric CO2 concentrations for simulated surface temperatures to be in reasonable agreement with proxy data for the Eocene.


Palaeocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum; aerosol–cloud climate sensitivity; climate change; equable climate


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