The earth is a complex system; disturbances in one part of the system can impact the functioning of other parts. For instance, a higher concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide does not only cause global warming, melting of ice and other climate change phenomena, but also causes ocean acidification and de-oxygenation. These global responses to disturbances involve feedback mechanisms that act in many different components (earth, water, ice, forest) and at multiple timescales (varying from days to multi-millennia).
When the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere changes, earth temperatures will change as well. Climate sensitivity is an important concept in climate studies, and is defnied as how much warmer the earth will be when the atmospheric carbon dioxide doubles. Feedback mechanisms play a big role in this concept. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) determined the climate sensitivity for the next century, but with a likely range of 2.1 – 4.4 °C, the answer is not specific enough. It is the difference between the Greenland ice cap remaining or vanishing. Clarifying the role of feedback mechanisms will hopefully narrow the answer down.
With the Netherlands Earth System Science Centre we aim to quantify and understand climate sensitivity. Will the global temperature rise gradually or irregularly? What is the influence of feedback mechanisms and can we identify tipping points? To answer these questions, NESSC divides its research in five work packages (WPs). Each work package consists of different PhD or post-doc research projects.
In the first two work packages we develop tools and generate climate records. WP1 focuses on climate proxies: fossil remains of organisms that can be related to climate relevant parameters such as sea-surface temperatures or atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration. WP2 generates high-quality, high resolution climate records; instrumental as well as proxy records of past climates. WP3 focuses on climate feedback mechanisms, and in the last two work packages we compose available and new data to quantify climate sensitivity (WP4) and detect and understand tipping points (WP5).
For a list of all NESSC publications, click here.