Biosphere feedbacks and climate change - Grantham Briefing Paper 12

Topics: Earth systems science
Type: Briefing paper
Publication date: July 2015



Oak leaves Authors: Professor Iain Colin Prentice, Siân Williams and Professor Pierre Friedlingstein

A climate feedback is a process by which climate change influences some property of the Earth system – for example, cloud amount, atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, or snow cover – in such a way as to either diminish or amplify the change. Feedbacks involving atmospheric composition may depend on physical and chemical processes (such as the uptake of CO2 by the ocean) or, in many cases, biological processes. This briefing paper is concerned with ‘biosphere feedbacks'  that involve biological processes. Biosphere feedbacks are not modelled by standard general circulation models (GCMs).

This briefing paper is an assessment of the state of knowledge about the most important feedbacks associated with the biosphere (terrestrial and marine ecosystems). We draw extensively on the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) , but we also refer to a significant body of scientific literature published since 2012 and therefore not so far assessed by the IPCC. We particularly emphasize the value of observational constraints on the magnitude of feedbacks, to avoid exclusive reliance on models. We consider some of the implications of this knowledge for climate policy, and for Earth system science.

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  1. Executive summary
  2. Glossary
  3. Introduction and fundamentals
  4. Estimated magnitudes of feedbacks
  5. Policy implications
  6. Research agenda
  7. Acknowledgments

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