On the state dependency of the equilibrium climate sensitivity during the last 5 million years

Other literature type, Article, Unknown, Conference object English OPEN
Köhler, P ; De Boer, B ; Von der Heydt, AS ; Stap, LB ; Van de Wal, RSW (2015)

It is still an open question how equilibrium warming in response to increasing radiative forcing – the specific equilibrium climate sensitivity <i>S</i> – depends on background climate. We here present palaeodata-based evidence on the state dependency of <i>S</i>, by using CO<sub>2</sub> proxy data together with a 3-D ice-sheet-model-based reconstruction of land ice albedo over the last 5 million years (Myr). We find that the land ice albedo forcing depends non-linearly on the background climate, while any non-linearity of CO<sub>2</sub> radiative forcing depends on the CO<sub>2</sub> data set used. This non-linearity has not, so far, been accounted for in similar approaches due to previously more simplistic approximations, in which land ice albedo radiative forcing was a linear function of sea level change. The latitudinal dependency of ice-sheet area changes is important for the non-linearity between land ice albedo and sea level. In our set-up, in which the radiative forcing of CO<sub>2</sub> and of the land ice albedo (LI) is combined, we find a state dependence in the calculated specific equilibrium climate sensitivity, <i>S</i><sub>[CO<sub>2</sub>,LI]</sub>, for most of the Pleistocene (last 2.1 Myr). During Pleistocene intermediate glaciated climates and interglacial periods, <i>S</i><sub>[CO<sub>2</sub>,LI]</sub> is on average ~ 45 % larger than during Pleistocene full glacial conditions. In the Pliocene part of our analysis (2.6–5 Myr BP) the CO<sub>2</sub> data uncertainties prevent a well-supported calculation for <i>S</i><sub>[CO<sub>2</sub>,LI]</sub>, but our analysis suggests that during times without a large land ice area in the Northern Hemisphere (e.g. before 2.82 Myr BP), the specific equilibrium climate sensitivity, <i>S</i><sub>[CO<sub>2</sub>,LI]</sub>, was smaller than during interglacials of the Pleistocene. We thus find support for a previously proposed state change in the climate system with the widespread appearance of northern hemispheric ice sheets. This study points for the first time to a so far overlooked non-linearity in the land ice albedo radiative forcing, which is important for similar palaeodata-based approaches to calculate climate sensitivity. However, the implications of this study for a suggested warming under CO<sub>2</sub> doubling are not yet entirely clear since the details of necessary corrections for other slow feedbacks are not fully known and the uncertainties that exist in the ice-sheet simulations and global temperature reconstructions are large.
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