Reducing uncertainty about carbon dioxide as a climate driver

Article metrics


The lack of an adequate ancient analogue for future climates means that we ultimately must use and trust climate models, evaluated against modern observation and our best geologic records of warm and cold climates of the past. Armed with an elevated confidence in the models, we will then be able to make reliable predictions of the Earth's response to our risky experiment with the climate system.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: The variations in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations and relative changes in air temperature determined from the Vostok, Antarctica ice core are tightly correlated and reveal no obvious, substantial lead–lag relationship.


  1. 1

    Veizer, J., Godderis, Y. & Francois, L. M. Evidence for decoupling of atmospheric CO2 and global climate during the Phanerozoic eon. Nature 408, 698–701 (2000).

  2. 2

    Pagani, M., Arthur, M. A. & Freeman, K. H. Miocene evolution of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Paleoceanography 14, 273–292.

  3. 3

    Wilson, P. A., Norris, R. D. & Cooper, M. J. Testing the Cretaceous greenhouse hypothesis using glassy foraminiferal calcite from the core of the Turonian tropics on Demerara Rise. Geology 30, 607–610 (2002).

  4. 4

    Montgomery, D. R., Balco, G. & Willett, S. D. Climate, tectonics, and the morphology of the Andes. Geology 29, 579–582 (2001).

  5. 5

    Charlson, R. J., Lovelock, J. E., Andreae, M. O. & Warren, S. G. Oceanic phytoplankton, atmospheric sulphur, cloud albedo and climate. Nature 326, 655–661 (1987).

  6. 6

    Broccoli, A. J. & Manabe, S. The influence of continental ice, atmospheric CO2, and land albedo on the climate of the last glacial maximum. Clim. Dynam. 1, 87–99 (1987).

  7. 7

    Crowley, T. J. & Berner, R. A. CO2 and climate change. Science 292, 870–872 (2001).

  8. 8

    Beerling, D. J., Lomax, B. H., Royer, D. L., Upchurch, G. R. Jr & Kump, L. R. An atmospheric pCO2 reconstruction across the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary from leaf megafossils. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 99, 7844–7847 (2002).

  9. 9

    Dickens, G. R., O'Neil, J. R., Rea, D. K. & Owen, R. M. Dissociation of oceanic methane hydrate as a cause of the carbon-isotope excursion at the end of the Paleocene. Paleoceanography 10, 965–971 (1995).

  10. 10

    Barron, E. J. Eocene equator-to-pole surface ocean temperatures: a significant climate problem? Paleoceanography 2, 729–739 (1987).

  11. 11

    Crowley, T. J. & Zachos, J. C. in Warm Climates in Earth History (eds Huber, B. T., MacLeod, K. S. & Wing, S. C.) 50–76 (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 2000).

  12. 12

    Pearson, P. N. et al. Warm tropical sea surface temperatures in the Late Cretaceous and Eocene epochs. Nature 413, 481–487 (2001).

  13. 13

    Kump, L. R. et al. A weathering hypothesis for glaciation at high atmospheric pCO2 in the Late Ordovician. Palaeoclimatol. Palaeoecol. Palaeogeogr. 152, 173–187 (1999).

  14. 14

    Petit, J. R. et al. Climate and atmospheric history of the past 420,000 years from the Vostok ice core, Antarctica. Nature 399, 429–436 (1999).

Download references


I thank R. Alley, M. Arthur and R. Pierrehumbert for their constructive criticism of drafts of this commentary. Research on ancient environments by L.R.K. at Penn State is supported by grants from NSF Biocomplexity, Geology and Paleontology, and NASA Astrobiology programmes.

Author information

Correspondence to Lee R. Kump.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Kump, L. Reducing uncertainty about carbon dioxide as a climate driver. Nature 419, 188–190 (2002) doi:10.1038/nature01087

Download citation

Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.