Abstract

Understanding how global temperature changes with increasing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, or climate sensitivity, is of central importance to climate change research. Climate models provide sensitivity estimates that may not fully incorporate slow, long-term feedbacks such as those involving ice sheets and vegetation. Geological studies, on the other hand, can provide estimates that integrate long- and short-term climate feedbacks to radiative forcing. Because high latitudes are thought to be most sensitive to greenhouse gas forcing owing to, for example, ice-albedo feedbacks, we focus on the tropical Pacific Ocean to derive a minimum value for long-term climate sensitivity. Using Mg/Ca paleothermometry from the planktonic foraminifera Globigerinoides ruber from the past 500 k.y. at Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) Site 871 in the western Pacific warm pool, we estimate the tropical Pacific climate sensitivity parameter (λ) to be 0.94–1.06 °C (W m−2)−1, higher than that predicted by model simulations of the Last Glacial Maximum or by models of doubled greenhouse gas concentration forcing. This result suggests that models may not yet adequately represent the long-term feedbacks related to ocean circulation, vegetation and associated dust, or the cryosphere, and/or may underestimate the effects of tropical clouds or other short-term feedback processes.

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