Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Removal: Long-term Consequences and Commitment

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  • 2 February 2015 Create Date
  • 25 September 2019 Last Updated

Carbon capture from ambient air has been proposed as a mitigation strategy to counteract anthropogenic climate change. We use an Earth system model to investigate the response of the coupled climate–carbon system to an instantaneous removal of all anthropogenic CO2 from the atmosphere. In our extreme and idealized simulations, anthropogenic CO2 emissions are halted and all anthropogenic CO2 is removed from the atmosphere at year 2050 under the IPCC A2 CO2 emission scenario when the model-simulated atmospheric CO2 reaches 511 ppm and surface temperature reaches 1.8 ◦C above the pre-industrial level. In our simulations a one-time removal of all anthropogenic CO2 in the atmosphere reduces surface air temperature by 0.8 ◦C within a few years, but 1 ◦ C surface warming above pre-industrial levels lasts for several centuries. In other words, a one-time removal of 100% excess CO2 from the atmosphere offsets less than 50% of the warming experienced at the time of removal. To maintain atmospheric CO2 and temperature at low levels, not only does anthropogenic CO2 in the atmosphere need to be removed, but anthropogenic CO2 stored in the ocean and land needs to be removed as well when it outgasses to the atmosphere. In our simulation to maintain atmospheric CO2 concentrations at pre-industrial levels for centuries, an additional amount of CO2 equal to the original CO2 captured would need to be removed over the subsequent 80 years.


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Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Removal: Long-term Consequences and Commitment