Climate Dynamics

, 30:161 | Cite as

CO2 threshold for millennial-scale oscillations in the climate system: implications for global warming scenarios

  • Katrin J. MeissnerEmail author
  • Michael Eby
  • Andrew J. Weaver
  • Oleg A. Saenko


We present several equilibrium runs under varying atmospheric CO2 concentrations using the University of Victoria Earth System Climate Model (UVic ESCM). The model shows two very different responses: for CO2 concentrations of 400 ppm or lower, the system evolves into an equilibrium state. For CO2 concentrations of 440 ppm or higher, the system starts oscillating between a state with vigorous deep water formation in the Southern Ocean and a state with no deep water formation in the Southern Ocean. The flushing events result in a rapid increase in atmospheric temperatures, degassing of CO2 and therefore an increase in atmospheric CO2 concentrations, and a reduction of sea ice cover in the Southern Ocean. They also cool the deep ocean worldwide. After the flush, the deep ocean warms slowly again and CO2 is taken up by the ocean until the stratification becomes unstable again at high latitudes thousands of years later. The existence of a threshold in CO2 concentration which places the UVic ESCM in either an oscillating or non-oscillating state makes our results intriguing. If the UVic ESCM captures a mechanism that is present and important in the real climate system, the consequences would comprise a rapid increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations of several tens of ppm, an increase in global surface temperature of the order of 1–2°C, local temperature changes of the order of 6°C and a profound change in ocean stratification, deep water temperature and sea ice cover.


Millenial-scale oscillations Climate modelling Nonlinear behavior of the climate system Global warming scenarios Carbon cycle 



We would like to thank Ed Wiebe for his technical assistance. We are also grateful to Reindert Haarsma and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful and constructive comments. This research was supported by grants from the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences (CFCAS) sponsored Polar Climate Stability Network.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Katrin J. Meissner
    • 1
    Email author
  • Michael Eby
    • 1
  • Andrew J. Weaver
    • 1
  • Oleg A. Saenko
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Earth and Ocean SciencesUniversity of VictoriaVictoriaCanada
  2. 2.Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and AnalysisVictoriaCanada

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