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

TS.5.5 Implications of Climate Processes and their Time Scales for Long-Term Projections

The commitments to climate change after stabilisation of radiative forcing are expected to be about 0.5 to 0.6°C, mostly within the following century. The multi-model average when stabilising concentrations of greenhouse gases and aerosols at year 2000 values after a 20th-century climate simulation, and running an additional 100 years, is about 0.6°C of warming (relative to 1980–1999) at year 2100 (see Figure TS.32). If the B1 or A1B scenarios were to characterise 21st-century emissions followed by stabilisation at those levels, the additional warming after stabilisation is similar, about 0.5°C, mostly in the subsequent hundred years. {10.3, 10.7}

SRES Mean Surface Warming Projections

Figure TS.32

Figure TS.32. Multi-model means of surface warming (compared to the 1980–1999 base period) for the SRES scenarios A2 (red), A1B (green) and B1 (blue), shown as continuations of the 20th-century simulation. The latter two scenarios are continued beyond the year 2100 with forcing kept constant (committed climate change as it is defined in Box TS.9). An additional experiment, in which the forcing is kept at the year 2000 level is also shown (orange). Linear trends from the corresponding control runs have been removed from these time series. Lines show the multi-model means, shading denotes the ±1 standard deviation range. Discontinuities between different periods have no physical meaning and are caused by the fact that the number of models that have run a given scenario is different for each period and scenario (numbers indicated in figure). For the same reason, uncertainty across scenarios should not be interpreted from this figure (see Section 10.5 for uncertainty estimates). {Figure 10.4}

The magnitude of the positive feedback between climate change and the carbon cycle is uncertain. This leads to uncertainty in the trajectory of CO2 emissions required to achieve a particular stabilization level of atmospheric CO2 concentration. Based upon current understanding of climate-carbon cycle feedback, model studies suggest that, in order to stabilise CO2 at 450 ppm, cumulative emissions in the 21st century could be reduced from a model average of approximately 670 [630 to 710] GtC to approximately 490 [375 to 600] GtC. Similarly, to stabilise CO2 at 1000 ppm, the cumulative emissions could be reduced by this feedback from a model average of approximately 1415 [1340 to 1490] GtC to approximately 1100 [980 to 1250] GtC. {7.3, 10.4}

If radiative forcing were to be stabilised in 2100 at A1B concentrations, thermal expansion alone would lead to 0.3 to 0.8 m of sea level rise by 2300 (relative to 1980–1999) and would continue at decreasing rates for many centuries, due to slow processes that mix heat into the deep ocean. {10.7}

Contraction of the Greenland Ice Sheet is projected to continue to contribute to sea level rise after 2100. For stabilisation at A1B concentrations in 2100, a rate of 0.03 to 0.21 m per century due to thermal expansion is projected. If a global average warming of 1.9°C to 4.6°C relative to pre-industrial temperatures were maintained for millennia, the Greenland Ice Sheet would largely be eliminated except for remnant glaciers in the mountains. This would raise sea level by about 7 m and could be irreversible. These temperatures are comparable to those inferred for the last interglacial period 125,000 years ago, when palaeoclimatic information suggests reductions of polar ice extent and 4 to 6 m of sea level rise. {6.4, 10.7}

Dynamical processes not included in current models but suggested by recent observations could increase the vulnerability of the ice sheets to warming, increasing future sea level rise. Understanding of these processes is limited and there is no consensus on their likely magnitude. {4.6, 10.7}

Current global model studies project that the Antarctic Ice Sheet will remain too cold for widespread surface melting and will gain in mass due to increased snowfall. However, net loss of ice mass could occur if dynamical ice discharge dominates the ice sheet mass balance. {10.7}

While no models run for this assessment suggest an abrupt MOC shutdown during the 21st century, some models of reduced complexity suggest MOC shutdown as a possible long-term response to sufficiently strong warming. However, the likelihood of this occurring cannot be evaluated with confidence. The few available simulations with models of different complexity rather suggest a centennial-scale slowdown. Recovery of the MOC is likely if the radiative forcing is stabilised but would take several centuries. Systematic model comparison studies have helped establish some key processes that are responsible for variations between models in the response of the ocean to climate change (especially ocean heat uptake). {8.7, FAQ 10.2, 10.3}