29 Nov 2021
29 Nov 2021
Status: a revised version of this preprint is currently under review for the journal ACP.

Observation Based Budget and Lifetime of Excess Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide

Stephen E. Schwartz Stephen E. Schwartz
  • Environmental and Climate Sciences Department, Brookhaven National Laboratory, P. O. Box 5000, Upton NY 11973 USA

Abstract. The global budgets of CO2 and of excess CO2 (i.e., above preindustrial) in the biogeosphere are examined by a top-down, observationally constrained approach. Global stocks in the atmosphere, mixed-layer and deep ocean, and labile and obdurate terrestrial biosphere, and fluxes between them are quantified; total uptake of carbon by the terrestrial biosphere is constrained by observations, but apportionment to the two terrestrial compartments is only weakly constrained, requiring examination of sensitivity to this apportionment. Because of near equilibrium between the atmosphere and the mixed-layer ocean and near steady state between the atmosphere and the labile biosphere, these three compartments are tightly coupled. For best-estimate present-day anthropogenic emissions the turnover time of excess carbon in these compartments to the deep ocean and obdurate biosphere is 67 to 158 years. Atmospheric CO2 over the Anthropocene is accurately represented by a five-compartment model with four independent parameters: two universal geophysical quantities and two, specific to CO2, treated as variable. The model also accurately represents atmospheric radiocarbon, particularly the large increase due to atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons and the subsequent decrease. The adjustment time of excess atmospheric CO2, evaluated from the rate of decrease following abrupt cessation of emissions, is 78 to 140 years, consistent with the turnover time, approaching a long-time floor of 15–20 % of the value at the time of cessation. The lifetime of excess CO2 found here, several-fold shorter than estimates from current carbon-cycle models, indicates that cessation of anthropogenic emissions atmospheric would result in substantial recovery of CO2 toward its preindustrial value in less than a century.

Stephen E. Schwartz

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on acp-2021-924', David Archer, 14 Dec 2021
    • AC1: 'Reply on RC1', Stephen E. Schwartz, 17 Dec 2021
  • CC1: 'Comment on acp-2021-924', Joshua Halpern, 07 Feb 2022
    • AC2: 'Reply on CC1', Stephen E. Schwartz, 09 Feb 2022
  • CC2: 'Comment on acp-2021-924', Michael MacCracken, 22 Feb 2022
    • AC3: 'Reply on CC2', Stephen E. Schwartz, 23 Feb 2022
  • RC2: 'Comment on acp-2021-924', Anonymous Referee #2, 22 Mar 2022
    • AC4: 'Reply on RC2', Stephen E. Schwartz, 01 Apr 2022

Stephen E. Schwartz

Stephen E. Schwartz


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Latest update: 08 Aug 2022
Short summary
Carbon dioxide is central to anthropogenic climate change, but the response of CO2 to potential reductions in emissions is quite uncertain. Current model estimates of the lifetime of excess atmospheric CO2 above preindustrial range from about 150 years to upwards of 500 years. Based on a global budget and a compartment model this lifetime is constrained here to 110 ± 30 years. These results demonstrate that reduction of CO2 emissions could yield tangible results within a human lifespan.