IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis

7.3.5 Coupling Between the Carbon Cycle and Climate Introduction

Atmospheric CO2 is increasing at only about half the rate implied by fossil fuel plus land use emissions, with the remainder being taken up by the ocean, and vegetation and soil on land. Therefore, the land and ocean carbon cycles are currently helping to mitigate CO2-induced climate change. However, these carbon cycle processes are also sensitive to climate. The glacial-interglacial cycles are an example of tight coupling between climate and the carbon cycle over long time scales, but there is also clear evidence of the carbon cycle responding to short-term climatic anomalies such as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and Arctic Oscillation (Rayner et al., 1999; Bousquet et al., 2000; C. Jones et al., 2001; Lintner, 2002; Russell and Wallace, 2004) and the climate perturbation arising from the Mt. Pinatubo volcanic eruption (Jones and Cox, 2001a; Lucht et al., 2002; Angert et al., 2004).

Previous IPCC reports have used simplified or ‘reduced-form’ models to estimate the impact of climate change on the carbon cycle. However, detailed climate projections carried out with Atmosphere-Ocean General Circulation Models (AOGCMs) have typically used a prescribed CO2 concentration scenario, neglecting two-way coupling between climate and the carbon cycle. This section discusses the first generation of coupled climate-carbon cycle AOGCM simulations, using the results to highlight a number of critical issues in the interaction between climate change and the carbon cycle.