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Geobiological constraints on Earth system sensitivity to CO2 during the Cretaceous and Cenozoic


Corresponding author: D. L. Royer. Tel.: +860 685 2836; fax: +860 685 3651; e-mail:


Earth system climate sensitivity (ESS) is the long-term (>103 year) response of global surface temperature to doubled CO2 that integrates fast and slow climate feedbacks. ESS has energy policy implications because global temperatures are not expected to decline appreciably for at least 103 year, even if anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions drop to zero. We report provisional ESS estimates of 3 °C or higher for some of the Cretaceous and Cenozoic based on paleo-reconstructions of CO2 and temperature. These estimates are generally higher than climate sensitivities simulated from global climate models for the same ancient periods (approximately 3 °C). Climate models probably do not capture the full suite of positive climate feedbacks that amplify global temperatures during some globally warm periods, as well as other characteristic features of warm climates such as low meridional temperature gradients. These absent feedbacks may be related to clouds, trace greenhouse gases (GHGs), seasonal snow cover, and/or vegetation, especially in polar regions. Better characterization and quantification of these feedbacks is a priority given the current accumulation of atmospheric GHGs.

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