I find this paper (PDF) interesting, but it still does not address the temperature/CO2 800 year time lag seen in ice core records. h/t to Leif Svalgaard – Anthony
Fossil soils constrain ancient climate sensitivity
Dana L. Royer 1
Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT 06459
Global temperatures have covaried with atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) over the last 450 million years of Earth’s history (1). Critically, ancient greenhouse periods provide some of the most pertinent information for anticipating how the Earth will respond to the current anthropogenic loading of greenhouse gases. Paleo-CO2 can be inferred either by proxy or by the modeling of the long-term carbon cycle.
For much of the geologic past, estimates of CO2 are consistent across methods (1). One exception is the paleosol carbonate proxy, whose CO2 estimates are often more than twice as high as coeval estimates from other methods (1). This discrepancy has led some to question the validity of the other methods and has hindered attempts to understand the linkages between paleo-CO2 and other parts of the Earth system. In this issue of PNAS, Breecker and colleagues (2) break important new ground for resolving this conflict.
The paleosol carbonate proxy for atmospheric CO2 is based on the analysis of carbonate nodules that precipitate in soils in seasonally dry to dry climates. These nodules incorporate carbon from two sources: atmospheric CO2 that diffuses directly into the soil and in situ CO2 from biological respiration. Because the stable carbon isotopic composition of these two sources is distinct, the concentration of atmospheric CO2 can be inferred if the concentration of soil CO2 and the isotopic compositions of the two sources are known (3). Atmospheric CO2 estimates scale directly with soil CO2 concentration: If the soil term is wrong by a factor of two, the inferred atmospheric CO2 will be off by a factor of two.
Estimates of soil CO2 concentration for fossil soils have been based on measurements taken during the growing season in equivalent living soils. However, Breecker et al. (2, 4) demonstrate convincingly that the window of active carbonate formation is restricted to the warmer and dryer parts of the growing season. Carbonate formation is simply not thermodynamically favorable during cooler and wetter seasons. Critically, biological productivity and respiration are low during these dry periods. As a result, soil CO2 concentration during the critical window of active carbonate formation has been overestimated in most soils by a factor of two or more (2).
What does this mean? CO2 estimates from the paleosol carbonate proxy can be cut in half (or more). Doing so snaps the paleosol-based estimates in line with most other approaches (2) (Fig. 1B) and produces the most precise view to date of Earth’s CO2 history. We are now better equipped to answer some important, basic questions. For example, what is the quantitative relationship between CO2 and temperature? That is, for every doubling of CO2, what is the long-term (103–104 years) equilibrium response of global temperature (termed here climate sensitivity)?
Most assessments of climate sensitivity for the present day hover around 3°C per CO2 doubling (5), although if the longterm waxing and waning of continental ice sheets are considered it is probably closer to 6°C (6). Less is known about climate sensitivity during ancient greenhouse periods, simply because having poles draped in forest instead of ice represents a profound rearrangement of climate feedbacks.
Records of CO2 and temperature are now sufficiently robust for placing firm minimum constraints on climate sensitivity during parts of the Cretaceous and early Paleogene (125–40 Mya), a well-known globally warm interval. Indeed, owing to the logarithmic relationship between CO2 and temperature, the geologic record is ideally suited for establishing minimum thresholds. This is because, to accommodate a declining sensitivity, other boundary conditions of the Earth system need to shift exponentially, for example, unreasonable oscillations in atmospheric CO2. Policywise, establishing a basement value for climate sensitivity is a critical step for addressing our current climate crisis (5).
With few exceptions, CO2 during the Cretaceous and early Paleogene was<1,000 ppm (2) (Fig. 1B). Global mean surface temperature is very difficult to establish for these ancient periods. However, temperature change in the tropics today scales at roughly two-thirds the global change (5, 6).
If we assume a similar relationship in the past and a climate sensitivity of 3°C perCO2 doubling, a rise in atmospheric CO2 to 1,000 ppm results in a 3.6°C warming in the tropics (relative to a 280-ppm baseline).
Given that tropical sea surface temperatures range from 27° to 29°C today, tropical temperatures exceeding 30.6°–32.6°C (red band in Fig. 1A) during the Cretaceous and early Paleogene likely correspond to a climate sensitivity >3°C. This threshold was commonly surpassed during the Cretaceous and early Paleogene (Fig. 1A). For times when CO2 was <1,000 ppm, the tropical temperature threshold for a 3°C climate sensitivity would shift to correspondingly cooler values.
Further, there is abundant evidence for flatter latitudinal temperature gradients during greenhouse periods (7, 8), meaning, again, that the tropical temperature threshold used here is probably a maximum. Together, it is clear that during the Cretaceous and Paleogene climate sensitivity commonly exceeded 3°C per CO2 doubling.
Although further work is needed, the geologic evidence (2) (Fig. 1) is most consistent with long-term, future climate change being more severe than presently anticipated (5). Also, global climate models tuned to ancient greenhouse periods commonly have emergent climate sensitivities of <3°C and they fail to simulate the shallow latitudinal temperature gradients (9). Thus even for times with little ice, there are important positive feedbacks that are presently not captured adequately in climate models. Processes for warming the high latitudes without a change in CO2 include more vigorous heat transport (10, 11), more widespread stratospheric clouds in the high latitudes (12), and climate feedbacks from polar forests (13). and their study highlights the value of a clearly resolved paleo-CO2 record. However, a limitation is that they uniformly apply a “best guess” value of 2,500 ppm for soil CO2 concentration.
They recognize this as an oversimplification and is an area for future work. Better modeling of the term, perhaps through independent proxy (14), may result in a further tightening of the paleo-CO2 record.
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