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Human influence on the 21st century climate: 1 possible future for the atmosphere
Date:8/5/2011

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Five years ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change asked the climate science community to provide scenarios of greenhouse gas emissions and land use change to guide computer models that simulate potential changes to the Earth's climate.

Researchers decided on four possible targets that span a wide range of possible levels of man-made greenhouse gas emissions over the next century. These future scenarios are currently being used by climate modeling groups worldwide in a coordinated effort to compare models and advance the science of climate projections.

The researchers assigned each of the scenarios a specific target amount of the sun's energy that gets trapped in the atmosphere, a property called radiative forcing. Because of differences between the scenarios, each one will produce slightly different degrees of warming.

The RCP 4.5 scenario shoots for 4.5 Watts per square meters radiative forcing in 2100 and lets economics reveal how to achieve that goal the cheapest way possible. The scenario's 4.5 W/m2 means roughly 525 parts per million carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (currently, it hovers around 390 parts per million). It also means approximately 650 parts per million carbon dioxide-equivalents, which includes greenhouse gases besides carbon dioxide.

Unlike the other three scenarios, RCP 4.5 includes carbon in forests in the carbon market. This affects how people use land, as cutting down forests emits carbon dioxide but expanding forests stores it. An earlier modeling study showed that without placing such a value, forests could get cut down for use as biofuels and the land on which they stood used for crops.

The Greenhouse Race

Starting with the world as it looked in 2005 and setting the endpoint at 2100, the team let the model simulate the greenhouse gas
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Contact: Mary Beckman
mary.beckman@pnnl.gov
509-375-3688
DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert

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