Comparative carbon cycle dynamics of the present and last interglacial

Brovkin, Victor; Brücher, Tim; Kleinen, Thomas; Zaehle, Sönke; Joos, Fortunat; Roth, Raphael; Spahni, Renato; Schmitt, Jochen; Fischer, Hubertus; Leuenberger, Markus; Stone, Emma J.; Ridgwell, Andy; Chappellaz, Jérôme; Kehrwald, Natalie; Barbante, Carlo; Blunier, Thomas; Dahl Jensen, Dorthe (2016). Comparative carbon cycle dynamics of the present and last interglacial. Quaternary Science Reviews, 137, pp. 15-32. Elsevier 10.1016/j.quascirev.2016.01.028

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Changes in temperature and carbon dioxide during glacial cycles recorded in Antarctic ice cores are tightly coupled. However, this relationship does not hold for interglacials. While climate cooled towards the end of both the last (Eemian) and present (Holocene) interglacials, CO₂ remained stable during the
Eemian while rising in the Holocene. We identify and review twelve biogeochemical mechanisms of terrestrial (vegetation dynamics and CO₂
fertilization, land use, wild fire, accumulation of peat, changes in permafrost carbon, subaerial volcanic outgassing) and marine origin (changes in sea surface temperature, carbonate compensation to deglaciation and terrestrial biosphere regrowth, shallow-water carbonate sedimentation, changes in the soft tissue pump, and methane hydrates), which potentially may have contributed to the CO₂ dynamics during interglacials but which remain not well quantified. We use three Earth System Models (ESMs) of intermediate complexity to compare effects of selected mechanisms on the interglacial CO₂
and δ¹³ CO₂ changes, focusing on those with substantial potential impacts: namely carbonate sedimentation in shallow waters, peat growth, and (in the case of the Holocene) human land use. A set of specified carbon cycle forcings could qualitatively explain atmospheric CO₂ dynamics from 8ka BP to the pre-industrial. However, when applied to Eemian boundary conditions from 126 to 115 ka BP, the same set of forcings led to disagreement with the observed direction of CO₂ changes after 122 ka BP. This failure to simulate late-Eemian CO₂ dynamics could be a result of the imposed forcings such as
prescribed CaCO₃ accumulation and/or an incorrect response of simulated terrestrial carbon to the surface cooling at the end of the interglacial. These experiments also reveal that key natural processes of interglacial CO₂ dynamics eshallow water CaCO₃ accumulation, peat and permafrost carbon dynamics are not well represented in the current ESMs. Global-scale modeling of these long-term carbon cycle components started only in the last decade, and uncertainty in parameterization of these mechanisms is a main limitation in the successful modeling of interglacial CO₂ dynamics.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Physics Institute > Climate and Environmental Physics
10 Strategic Research Centers > Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research (OCCR)
08 Faculty of Science > Physics Institute

UniBE Contributor:

Joos, Fortunat; Roth, Raphael; Spahni, Renato; Schmitt, Jochen; Fischer, Hubertus and Leuenberger, Markus


500 Science > 530 Physics








Doris Rätz

Date Deposited:

05 Apr 2016 15:59

Last Modified:

17 Apr 2021 10:44

Publisher DOI:





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