CO2-induced change in a coupled ocean-atmosphere model and its paleoclimatic implications


  • Syukuro Manabe,

  • Kirk Bryan Jr.


The climatic effects of very large changes of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere are explored using a general circulation model of the coupled ocean-atmosphere system. As a simplification the model has an annual mean insolation and a highly idealized geography, A series of climatic equilibria are obtained for cases with ½, 1/√2, 1, 2, 4, and 8 times the present CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. The results from these six numerical experiments indicate the climatic signatures of large CO2 changes in the atmosphere and in the abyssal and surface waters of the ocean. As the CO2 concentration in the model atmosphere increased from 1 to 8 times the normal value, the meridional gradient of surface air temperature decreased, while that of upper tropospheric temperature increased in agreement with the results of earlier CO2 climate sensitivity studies. However, the intensity and latitudinal placement of the atmospheric jet hardly changed. Despite the reduction of meridional temperature gradient, the meridional density gradient of water at the ocean surface changed little because of the increase of thermal expansion coefficient of seawater with increasing temperature. Thus the intensity of thermohaline circulation in the ocean model does not diminish as expected in the range from 1 to 8 times the normal atmospheric CO2 concentration. As was shown in an earlier study, the CO2-induced changes in the deep sea follow the change of sea surface temperature in high latitudes and thus are much larger than the globally averaged changes of sea surface temperature. The model predicts that the area mean rates of precipitation, evaporation, and runoff increase with increasing CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. The latitudes of the arid zone and the high surface pressure belt in the subtropics are almost constant in the entire range of 1–8 times normal CO2. In general, the climatic signature obtained from the model appears to be consistent with a CO2 hypothesis for the climatic changes in the Cenozoic with the following exception: the tropical sea surface temperature in the model has a small but significant increase with increasing atmospheric CO2 concentration, while tropical sea surface temperature as deduced from the isotopic record appears to have no systematic trend during the Tertiary. It is found that the climate corresponding to one-half normal CO2 is markedly different from the normal and high-CO2 cases. Sea ice extends to middle latitudes, and the thermohaline circulation in the model ocean loses its intensity and is largely confined to an area between the sea ice margin and the equator. The poleward heat transport by ocean currents is very small in high latitudes, markedly reducing the surface air temperature there. It is suggested that a similar process, which enhances the positive albedo feedback effect of sea ice, played a key role in reducing surface air temperatures over the North Atlantic during the last glacial maximum.