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Committed warming inferred from observations


Mauritsen,  Thorsten
Climate Dynamics, The Atmosphere in the Earth System, MPI for Meteorology, Max Planck Society;

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Mauritsen, T., & Pincus, R. (2017). Committed warming inferred from observations. Nature Climate Change, 7, 652-655. doi:10.1038/nclimate3357.

Due to the lifetime of CO2, the thermal inertia of the oceans and the temporary impacts of short-lived aerosols and reactive greenhouse gases, the Earth’s climate is not equilibrated with anthropogenic forcing. As a result, even if fossil-fuel emissions were to suddenly cease, some level of committed warming is expected due to past emissions as studied previously using climate models. Here, we provide an observational-based quantification of this committed warming using the instrument record of global-mean warming, recently improved estimates of Earth’s energy imbalance, and estimates of radiative forcing from the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Compared with pre-industrial levels, we find a committed warming of 1.5 K (0.9–3.6, 5th–95th percentile) at equilibrium, and of 1.3 K (0.9–2.3) within this century. However, when assuming that ocean carbon uptake cancels remnant greenhouse gas-induced warming on centennial timescales, committed warming is reduced to 1.1 K (0.7–1.8). In the latter case there is a 13% risk that committed warming already exceeds the 1.5 K target set in Paris. Regular updates of these observationally constrained committed warming estimates, although simplistic, can provide transparent guidance as uncertainty regarding transient climate sensitivity inevitably narrows and the understanding of the limitations of the framework is advanced.