04 Jan 2023
 | 04 Jan 2023

Choice of Forecast Scenario Impacts the Carbon Allocation at the Same Global Warming Levels

Lee de Mora, Ranjini Swaminathan, Richard P. Allan, Jeremy Blackford, Douglas I. Kelley, Phil Harris, Chris D. Jones, Colin G. Jones, Spencer Liddicoat, Robert J. Parker, Tristan Quaife, Jeremy Walton, and Andrew Yool

Abstract. The anthropogenic carbon distribution between the atmosphere, land surface and ocean varies significantly with the choice of scenario for identical changes in mean global surface temperature. Moving to a lower CO2 emissions scenario means that warming levels occur later, and with significantly less carbon in the three main carbon reservoirs. After 2 °C of warming, the multi-model mean ocean allocation can be up to 3 % different between scenarios, or 36 Pg in total with an even larger difference in some single model means. For the UKESM1 model, the difference between the minimum and maximum atmospheric fraction at the 2 °C Global Warming Level (GWL) is 3.6 %. This is equivalent to 50 Pg of additional carbon in the atmosphere, or the equivalent of five years of our current global total emissions.

In the lower CO2 concentration scenarios, SSP1-1.9 and SSP1-2.6, the ocean fraction grows over time while the the land surface fraction remains constant. In the higher CO2 concentration scenarios, SSP2-4.5, SSP3-7.0 and SSP5-8.5, the ocean fraction remains constant over time while the the land surface fraction decreases over time.

Higher equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) models reach the GWLs sooner, and with lower atmospheric CO2 than lower sensitivity models. However, the choice of scenario has a much larger impact on the percentage carbon allocation at a given warming level than the individual model's ECS.

Lee de Mora et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2022-1483', Anonymous Referee #1, 03 Feb 2023
    • AC1: 'Reply on RC1', Lee de Mora, 20 Apr 2023
  • RC2: 'Comment on egusphere-2022-1483', John Dunne, 08 Feb 2023
    • AC2: 'Reply on RC2', Lee de Mora, 20 Apr 2023

Lee de Mora et al.

Model code and software

ESMValTool ESMValTool repository

Lee de Mora et al.


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Short summary
We investigated the flux of carbon from the atmosphere into the land surface and the ocean for multiple models and over a range of future scenarios. We did this by comparing simulations after the same amount of change in the global mean near surface temperature. Using this method, we show that the choice of scenario can have a big impact. Scenarios with higher emissions reach the same warming levels sooner, but also with relatively more carbon in the atmosphere.