Perspective | Published:

Making sense of palaeoclimate sensitivity

Nature volume 491, pages 683691 (29 November 2012) | Download Citation

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  • An Erratum to this article was published on 16 January 2013

Abstract

Many palaeoclimate studies have quantified pre-anthropogenic climate change to calculate climate sensitivity (equilibrium temperature change in response to radiative forcing change), but a lack of consistent methodologies produces a wide range of estimates and hinders comparability of results. Here we present a stricter approach, to improve intercomparison of palaeoclimate sensitivity estimates in a manner compatible with equilibrium projections for future climate change. Over the past 65 million years, this reveals a climate sensitivity (in K W−1 m2) of 0.3–1.9 or 0.6–1.3 at 95% or 68% probability, respectively. The latter implies a warming of 2.2–4.8 K per doubling of atmospheric CO2, which agrees with IPCC estimates.

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Acknowledgements

This Perspective arose from the first PALAEOSENS workshop in March 2011. We thank the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) for funding and hosting this workshop in Amsterdam, PAGES for their support, and J. Gregory for discussions. This study was supported by the UK-NERC consortium iGlass (NE/I009906/1), and 2012 Australian Laureate Fellowship FL120100050. D.J.B., E.J.R. and P.V. were supported by Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Awards. A.S. thanks the European Research Council for ERC starting grant 259627, and M.H. acknowledges NSF P2C2 grant 0902882. Some of the work was supported by grant 243908 ‘Past4Future’ of the EU’s seventh framework programme; this is Past4Future contribution number 30.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. School of Ocean and Earth Science, University of Southampton, National Oceanography Centre, Southampton SO14 3ZH, UK.

    • E. J. Rohling
    • , G. L. Foster
    •  & H. Pälike
  2. Research School of Earth Sciences, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 0200, Australia.

    • E. J. Rohling
  3. Department of Earth Sciences, Faculty of Geosciences, Utrecht University, Budapestlaan 4, 3584 CD Utrecht, The Netherlands.

    • A. Sluijs
    • , P. K. Bijl
    •  & L. J. Lourens
  4. Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research Utrecht, Utrecht University, 3584 CC Utrecht, The Netherlands.

    • H. A. Dijkstra
    • , R. S. W. van de Wal
    •  & A. S. von der Heydt
  5. Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI), PO Box 12 01 61, 27515 Bremerhaven, Germany.

    • P. Köhler
  6. Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S10 2TN, UK.

    • D. J. Beerling
  7. Georges Lemaitre Centre for Earth and Climate Research, Earth and Life Institute–Université catholique de Louvain, Chemin du Cyclotron 2, Box L7.01.11, 1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium.

    • A. Berger
    •  & M. Crucifix
  8. Department of Geosciences, 611 North Pleasant Street, 233 Morrill Science Center, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Massachusetts 01003-9297, USA.

    • R. DeConto
  9. Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, PO Box 201, 3730 AE De Bilt, The Netherlands.

    • S. S. Drijfhout
  10. Department of Geology and Geophysics, Yale University, PO Box 208109, New Haven, Connecticut 06520-8109, USA.

    • A. Fedorov
    •  & M. Pagani
  11. Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), PO Box 601203, 14412 Potsdam, Germany.

    • A. Ganopolski
  12. NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, 2880 Broadway, New York, New York 10025, USA.

    • J. Hansen
  13. Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, Palisades, New York 10964, USA.

    • B. Hönisch
  14. Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, University of Amsterdam, Science Park 904, 1098 XH Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

    • H. Hooghiemstra
  15. Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Department, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana 47907, USA.

    • M. Huber
  16. Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University, 20 Oxford Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA.

    • P. Huybers
  17. Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, ETH Zurich, Universitätstrasse 16, 8092 Zurich, Switzerland.

    • R. Knutti
  18. Department of Earth Science, University of California, Santa Barbara, California 93106-9630, USA.

    • D. W. Lea
  19. School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol, University Road, Bristol BS8 1SS, UK.

    • D. Lunt
    •  & P. Valdes
  20. LSCE (IPSL/CEA-CNRS-UVSQ), UMR 8212, LCEA Saclay, 91 191 Gif sur Yvette Cedex, France.

    • V. Masson-Delmotte
  21. Centro de Investigación Científica de Yucatán, Unidad Ciencias del Agua, Cancún, Quintana Roo, 77500, México.

    • M. Medina-Elizalde
  22. National Center for Atmospheric Research, PO Box 3000, Boulder, Colorado 80307-3000, USA.

    • B. Otto-Bliesner
  23. MARUM, University of Bremen, Leobener Straße, 28359 Bremen, Germany.

    • H. Pälike
  24. Department of Earth Sciences, Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences, Free University Amsterdam, De Boelelaan 1085, NL1081HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

    • H. Renssen
  25. Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut 06459, USA.

    • D. L. Royer
  26. Department of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, Wills Memorial Building, Queen’s Road, Bristol BS8 1RJ, UK.

    • M. Siddall
  27. Earth and Planetary Sciences, University of California, Santa Cruz, California 95064, USA.

    • J. C. Zachos
  28. School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, Department of Oceanography, University of Hawaii at Manoa, 1000 Pope Road, MSB 629 Honolulu, Hawaii 96822, USA.

    • R. E. Zeebe

Consortia

  1. PALAEOSENS Project Members

Authors

    Contributions

    E.J.R., A.S. and H.A.D. initiated the PALAEOSENS workshop, and led the drafting of this study together with P.K., A.S.v.d.H. and R.S.W.v.d.W. The other authors contributed specialist insights, discussions and feedback.

    Competing interests

    The author declare no competing financial interests.

    Corresponding author

    Correspondence to E. J. Rohling.

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      Supplementary Information

      This file contains Supplementary Text and Data, Supplementary References, Supplementary Table 1 and Supplementary Figures 1-6.

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    https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11574

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