Feedback mechanisms in the climate system affecting future levels of carbon dioxide


  • William W. Kellogg


The rate of increase of concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide depends on the consumption of fossil fuels (the major source of ‘new’ carbon dioxide) and the natural sinks for this trace constituent, primarily the oceans and the biosphere. (It is now fairly well established that the biosphere cannot be a major source, as has been claimed.) The rate of operation of these sinks depends on several factors determined by the state of the climate system, and they will therefore presumably change as the greenhouse effect of increasing carbon dioxide warms the earth. Five specific feedback loops are discussed, two of which are positive (amplifying the rate of increase), two are weakly negative (damping the rate of increase), and one is indeterminate but probably positive. It is concluded that it would be well to be prepared for the possibility that carbon dioxide may increase faster than predicted by models based on the current or past state of the climate system.