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).

Feedback mechanisms

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.

Research Themes

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 research themes. Within each research theme PhD students, post-docs or tenure track candidates work on different aspects of climate research.

Research theme: Greenhouse gas sources and sinks (lead scientists: Caroline Slomp, Mike Jetten)
Increasing greenhouse gas concentration are the cause of climate change and their sinks and sources are not well constrained and changing because of climate change

Research theme: Land-ocean transfer (lead scientists: Jorien Vonk, Francien Peterse)
IPCC carbon budgets focus on atmosphere-land and atmosphere-ocean exchange and largely ignore land-ocean exchanges. This theme  comprises project to close that gap

Research theme: Ocean carbonate system dynamics (lead scientists: Gert-Jan Reichart, Jack Middelburg)
About 25% of the anthropogenic carbon ends up in the ocean, with the consequences that is uptake capacity is declining. This theme aims to further our capabilities to quantify this

Research theme: Climate dynamics (lead scientists: Anna von der Heydt, Appy Sluijs)
Understanding climate dynamics requires integration across temporal scales. This theme aims to link geological and historical record with mechanistic climate dynamic modelling

Research theme: Tipping points and early warning (lead scientists: Marten Scheffer, Lucas Lourens)
Small and gradual changes in forcing can cause abrupt changes. This theme aims to identify, predict and understand tipping points