Simulated carbon cycle and Earth system response to atmospheric CO2 removal

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To project possible future climate change, it is important to understand Earth system response to CO2 removal, a potential key method to limit global warming. Previous studies examined some aspects of Earth system response to different scenarios of CO2 removal, but lacked a systematic analysis of the carbon cycle and climate system response in a consistent modeling framework. We expanded previous studies by using an Earth system model to examine the response of land and ocean carbon cycle, as well as a set of climate variables to idealized scenarios of atmospheric CO2 removal with different removal rates. In the scenarios considered, atmospheric CO2 increases at a rate of 1% per year to four times of its preindustrial level, and then decreases at a rate of 0.5%, 1%, and 2% per year to the preindustrial level. Simulation results show that a reduction of atmospheric CO2 induces CO2 release from both the ocean and terrestrial biosphere, and to keep atmospheric CO2 at a lower level requires the removal of anthropogenic CO2 not only from the atmosphere, but from the ocean and land carbon reservoirs as well. The response of many variables of the Earth system, including temperature, ocean heat content, sea level, deep ocean acidity, and permafrost area and carbon, lags the decrease in atmospheric CO2 ranging from a few years to many centuries. A few centuries after atmospheric CO2 returns to the preindustrial level, sea level is still substantially higher than the preindustrial level, and permafrost continues losing CO2 to the atmosphere. Our study demonstrates that to offset previous positive CO2 emissions by atmospheric CO2 removal does not mean to offset climate consequence of positive CO2 emissions. Rapid and deep reduction in CO2 emissions is key to prevent and limit increasing risks from further warming. Our study provides new insights into the carbon cycle and climate system response to CO2 removal, which would help to assess future climate change and the associated impacts.




Cao, L., Jin, X. Y., & Jiang, J. (2023). Simulated carbon cycle and Earth system response to atmospheric CO2 removal. Advances in Climate Change Research, 14(2), 313–321.

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