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Future Carbon Uptake

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The ability of the land and ocean to take up carbon dioxide released to the atmosphere from human activities is a profound but limited environmental service with respect to stabilizing climate. In the ocean, this carbon uptake leads to acidification, a key aspect of global biogeochemical change.  The mechanisms that drive the cycling of carbon through the ocean-land-atmosphere system are key to understanding both the functioning of the earth as a system and the scope of our impact on climate. Quantifying the degree to which the land and ocean have absorbed this added carbon in the past and projecting how they will do so in the future is an important part of GFDL’s mission to project future climate as part of NOAA’s climate understanding and stewardship mandates.

GFDL Research

GFDL has a long history in conducting climate simulations with carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The primary tools currently used at GFDL to understand and project future carbon uptake by the ocean and land are coupled carbon-climate Earth System Models, ESM2M and ESM2G. In addition to collaborative work we do with these models, one of the primary ways that these models contribute to the scientific community’s attempt to reduce uncertainty in future carbon uptake is through participation in the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5).

Early work at GFDL relating to carbon focused on CO2 as a greenhouse gas and it’s potential for doubling in response to human activities, through water vapor and other atmospheric feedbacks in the context of latitudinal, land-sea and other inhomogeneities influencing climate (e.g. Manabe 1968, 1986, 1987). This work gradually transitioned to more complex representations of climate and investigations of transient CO2 changes with models incorporating simplified ocean biogeochemistry (Sarmiento and Le Quere, 1996; Sarmiento et al., 1998) towards fully prognostic carbon system models (Dunne et al., 2013).

Our efforts over the last decade have focused on component model development in ocean biogeochemistry (Dunne et al., 2005; 2013) and land ecosystems (Shevliakova, et al., 2009), and subsequently representing the coupled carbon-climate system through Earth System Modeling and the role of anthrogogenic carbon emissions in the earth system (Dunne et al., 2013).  GFDL participates in a variety of community efforts to understand future carbon uptake including CMIP5, US Clivar Ocean Carbon Uptake Working Group, EMBRACE Historical Carbon Variability Projections of Future coupled carbon-climate states Coupled carbon and paleoclimate.