The role of carbon in past and future climate

2 December 2011

There is much current concern over the future evolution of climate under conditions of increased atmospheric carbon. Much of the focus is on a bottom-up approach in which weather/climate models of severe complexity are solved and extrapolated beyond their presently validated parameter ranges. An alternative view takes a top-down approach, in which the past Earth itself is used as a laboratory; in this view, ice-core records show a strong association of carbon with atmospheric temperature throughout the Pleistocene ice ages. This suggests that carbon variations drove the ice ages. In this talk I build the simplest model which can accommodate this observation, and I show that it is reasonably able to explain the observations. The model can then be extrapolated to offer commentary on the cooling of the planet since the Eocene, and the likely evolution of climate under the current industrial production of atmospheric carbon.

  • Mathematical Geoscience Seminar