Climate Sensitivity : How Vegetation Matters

We all know by now about the melting ice and the droughts and the changes in rainfall.

But how do all of these things affect plant life ? And how do those changes feed back into further Climate Change ?

Part of the answer has come from Leeds and Bristol Universities in the last month :-

“Earth’s increased sensitivity to carbon dioxide : The Earth’s temperature may be 30-50% more sensitive to atmospheric carbon dioxide than has previously been estimated, according to research by a scientist at the University of Leeds. Published in Nature Geoscience this week, the results show that components of the Earth’s climate system that vary over long timescales – such as land-ice and vegetation – have an important effect on this temperature sensitivity, but these factors are often neglected in current climate models. Dan Lunt, from the University of Bristol, and colleagues compared results from a global climate model to temperature reconstructions of the Earth’s environment three million years ago, when global temperatures and carbon dioxide concentrations were relatively high. The temperature reconstructions were derived using data from three million-year-old sediments on the ocean floor. Lunt said, “We found that, given the concentrations of carbon dioxide prevailing three million years ago, the model originally predicted a significantly smaller temperature increase than that indicated by the reconstructions. This led us to review what was missing from the model.” The authors demonstrate that the increased temperatures indicated by the reconstructions can be explained if factors that vary over long timescales, such as land-ice and vegetation, are included in the model. This is primarily because changes in vegetation and ice lead to more sunlight being absorbed, which in turn increases warming. Alan Haywood, a co-author on the study from the University of Leeds, said “If we want to avoid dangerous climate change, this high sensitivity of the Earth to carbon dioxide should be taken into account when defining targets for the long-term stabilisation of atmospheric greenhouse-gas concentrations”…”

“…“We don’t want to be overly alarmist here,” said lead author Dan Lunt of Britain’s University of Bristol. “But if people are thinking about stabilizing CO2 at a certain atmospheric level, or putting together a treaty, or having a debate about what the levels should be, it really is important to know what the long-term consequences of those emissions are going to be, because CO2 hangs around for so long.”…”

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