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Philos Trans A Math Phys Eng Sci. 2015 Nov 13;373(2054). pii: 20140421. doi: 10.1098/rsta.2014.0421.

Carbon cycle feedbacks and future climate change.

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College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, University of Exeter, Exeter EX4 4QE, UK


Climate and carbon cycle are tightly coupled on many timescales, from interannual to multi-millennial timescales. Observations always evidence a positive feedback, warming leading to release of carbon to the atmosphere; however, the processes at play differ depending on the timescales. State-of-the-art Earth System Models now represent these climate-carbon cycle feedbacks, always simulating a positive feedback over the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, although with substantial uncertainty. Recent studies now help to reduce this uncertainty. First, on short timescales, El Niño years record larger than average atmospheric CO2 growth rate, with tropical land ecosystems being the main drivers. These climate-carbon cycle anomalies can be used as emerging constraint on the tropical land carbon response to future climate change. Second, centennial variability found in last millennium records can be used to constrain the overall global carbon cycle response to climatic excursions. These independent methods point to climate-carbon cycle feedback at the low-end of the Earth System Models range, indicating that these models overestimate the carbon cycle sensitivity to climate change. These new findings also help to attribute the historical land and ocean carbon sinks to increase in atmospheric CO2 and climate change.


climate change; climate-carbon cycle feedbacks; global carbon cycle


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