Earth's climate more sensitive to CO2 than previously thought, study finds

November 16, 2015
A modern trona from Lake Magadi, Kenya. Credit: David Tuttle

Ancient climates on Earth may have been more sensitive to carbon dioxide than was previously thought, according to new research from Binghamton University.

A team of Binghamton University researchers including geology PhD student Elliot A. Jagniecki and professors Tim Lowenstein, David Jenkins and Robert Demicco examined nahcolite crystals found in Colorado's Green River Formation, formed 50 million years old during a hothouse . They found that CO2 levels during this time may have been as low as 680 parts per million (ppm), nearly half the 1,125 ppm predicted by previous experiments. The new data suggests that past predictions significantly underestimate the impact of and that Earth's climate may be more sensitive to increased carbon dioxide than was once thought, said Lowenstein.

"The significance of this is that CO2 50 million years ago may not have been as high as we once thought it was, but the climate back then was significantly warmer than it is today," said Lowenstein."

CO2 levels in the atmosphere today have reached 400 ppm. According to current projections, doubling the CO2 will result in a rise in the of 3 degrees Centigrade. This new research suggests that the effects of CO2 on global warming may be underestimated.

"Take notice that carbon dioxide 50 million years ago may not have been as high as we once thought it was. We may reach that level in the next century, and so the from that increase could be pretty severe, pretty dramatic. CO2 and other climate forcings may be more important for than we realized."

A nahcolite from the Eocene Green River Formation. Credit: Timothy Lowenstein

The only direct measurement of carbon dioxide is from ice cores, which only go back less than 1 million years. Lowenstein and his team are trying to develop ways to estimate ancient in the atmosphere using indirect proxies. He said that their approach is different than any ever undertaken.

"These are direct chemical measurements that are based on equilibrium thermodynamics," he said. "These are direct laboratory experiments, so I think they're really reliable.

Lowenstein wants to look at nahcolite deposits in China to confirm the results found in Colorado.

Explore further: Climate chief warns of 'urgency' as CO2 levels rise

More information: Elliot A. Jagniecki et al. Eocene atmospheric CO from the nahcolite proxy , Geology (2015). DOI: 10.1130/G36886.1

Related Stories

Climate chief warns of 'urgency' as CO2 levels rise

April 29, 2013

The UN's climate chief called for urgency Monday as she opened a new round of global talks amid warnings that Earth-warming carbon dioxide levels were approaching a symbolic threshold never seen in human history.

Late Cretaceous Period was likely ice-free

September 24, 2013

For years, scientists have thought that a continental ice sheet formed during the Late Cretaceous Period more than 90 million years ago when the climate was much warmer than it is today. Now, a University of Missouri researcher ...

New crystal material captures carbon from humid gas

October 15, 2015

A new material with micropores might be a way to fight climate change. Scientists have created crystals that capture carbon dioxide much more efficiently than previously known materials, even in the presence of water. The ...

UK: In 1st, global temps average could be 1 degree C higher

November 9, 2015

This year is on track to be a record 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) hotter than the pre-industrial average, hitting a symbolic milestone in the global warming that scientists blame on human activities, Britain's ...

Northern lakes act as CO2 chimneys in a warming world

November 10, 2015

Many of the world's approximately 117 million lakes act as wet chimneys releasing large amounts of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, CO2, into the atmosphere. The most recent estimates show that CO2 emissions from the world's ...

Recommended for you

Melting Greenland ice threatens to expose Cold War waste

September 26, 2016

A snow-covered former US army base in Greenland—dubbed "a city under ice"—could leak pollutants into the environment as the climate changes, raising difficult questions over who is responsible for a clean-up.

11 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

cjones1
1.8 / 5 (9) Nov 16, 2015
This is important. Current AGW is only viable scientifically if earlier CO2 levels can be shown to be lower. Yet still, geologic processes, orbital cycles, and solar phenomena need to be fsctored in and not ignored.
john_mathon
1.9 / 5 (9) Nov 17, 2015
1) The article title is "CO2 HAS MORE EFFECT" the content says "CO2 MAY HAVE MORE EFFECT. This may appear to be a simple editing error but the difference is huge. Such an association study is not proof but only a possibility.

2) This is also evidence that possibly CO2 is NOT related to temperature much because under various CO2 scenarios you get wildly different temperature results. To me this implies that there is LESS Correlation of CO2 with temperature not more. It does not imply that future temperatures in the short term will be substantially higher as they are not moving higher today under the onslaught of what is apparently a large amount of CO2 historically.

3) Maybe CO2 and temperature are related like this but a delay is in the system which is unexplained. A better article would postulate why we aren't seeing the temperature rise seen in the past.
Shootist
1 / 5 (3) Nov 21, 2015
Prominent Scientists Declare Climate Claims Ahead of UN Summit 'Irrational' – 'Based On Nonsense' – 'Leading us down a false path'

MIT Climate Scientist Dr. Richard Lindzen: 'Demonization of CO2 is irrational at best and even modest warming is mostly beneficial.' - 'When someone says this is the warmest temperature on record. What are they talking about? It's just nonsense. This is a very tiny change period.'

Princeton Physicist Dr. Will Happer: 'Policies to slow CO2 emissions are really based on nonsense. We are being led down a false path. To call carbon dioxide a pollutant is really Orwellian. You are calling something a pollutant that we all produce. Where does that lead us eventually?'

Greenpeace Co-Founder Dr. Patrick Moore: 'We are dealing with pure political propaganda that has nothing to do with science.'
jeffensley
1 / 5 (3) Nov 21, 2015
Well me may have underestimated prior climate variability as well so this would be par for the course. I wonder, however, how they attempt to isolate the effect of CO2 when dealing with data this far back? It seems these studies consistently operate from the presumption that CO2 is the main climate driver and don't (or can't) account for the other variables.
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (5) Nov 21, 2015
It seems these studies consistently operate from the presumption...
@jeffe
here is a radical thought
READ THE STUDY
http://geology.gs...abstract

tell you what, you show where in the study that they scientists "operate from the presumption that CO2 is the main climate driver" and then link it here for everyone to see...

maybe you will be taken more seriously instead of making blatantly false claims as you typically do
you know what a false claim is, right?
"False claim: Statement about the real world refuted by the evidence."
http://www.auburn...ion.html

all you need to do before you post your pseudoscience is actually research it a little
and that doesn't mean seek your "proof" from your biased anti-science sites, either

original sources are important
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (4) Nov 21, 2015
@jeffe cont'd
if you had evidence, you could publish...
It seems ... variables.
& if this were true, there would be NO studies about methane
https://scholar.g...as_sdtp=

there would be no studies about solid particles or water vapor (atmospheric)
https://scholar.g...er+vapor

therefore, because you chose to operate from your faith (delusion) and not a logical evidence based argument

your claim is FALSE as well as blatantly stupid, as it took only 15 sec to undermine your whole premise of "consistently operate from the presumption that CO2 is the main climate driver"

it is one of the main problems because we KNOW it sources, we know it's effects, and we know our own output and OBSERVED how it's been effecting the climate

think before you type... or at least do some basic research
Maggnus
5 / 5 (4) Nov 21, 2015
This is important. Current AGW is only viable scientifically if earlier CO2 levels can be shown to be lower. Yet still, geologic processes, orbital cycles, and solar phenomena need to be fsctored in and not ignored.


Bullcrap. CO2 forcing in the atmosphere is well understood, your simplistic denial not with standing.

Geologic processes, orbital cycles and solar phenomena are ALL factored in already. Maybe you should read some more recent science about the subject - starting from Arrhenius in 1896.
jeffensley
1 / 5 (3) Nov 21, 2015
These data support a causal connection between elevated [CO2]atm and early Eocene global warmth,


It doesn't explain how they eliminate other potential drivers. They estimate temperature and CO2 (now revised to lower concentrations) and assume a causal connection at greater sensitivity than thought before. If you know the answer, feel free to explain.
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (2) Nov 21, 2015
It doesn't explain how they eliminate other potential drivers
@jeffe
so you've read the whole study as well as the methods? why not link it or share the quotes from the study then?
If you know the answer, feel free to explain.
actually, the point i am trying to make is that YOU don't know the answer and the study is paywalled (and i can't find any free versions)

so you are making sh*t up about the study based upon your personal interpretations of the abstract and the article above

this, by definition, is called OPINION (a personal conjecture without evidence) and it's based upon your already biased perspective

Therefore, you are pulling an RC and you can't validate your claim

the rest of your above (first post) is refuted by the evidence, therefore it is a blatantly false claim
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (2) Nov 21, 2015
@jeffe
ok .... here is a way to prove your point WRT the study
you say
It doesn't explain how they eliminate other potential drivers. They estimate temperature and CO2 (now revised to lower concentrations) and assume a causal connection at greater sensitivity than thought before
so, since you can't show us the study to validate your claims... lets do this the other way

post and link all the references they use in the study that validates your claim above, and then we will research each individual study and derive the probable conclusions made by the above through analysis of their abstract and extrapolation of the data relevant to the topic/abstract

how's that?
jeffensley
1 / 5 (1) Nov 25, 2015
Stump, I asked a simple question. If you don't know the answer next time then simply say that despite your faith in the accuracy of studies like this, you don't actually understand how they came to their conclusions.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.