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  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: June 2014

Chapter 5 - Information from Paleoclimate Archives


Executive Summary

Greenhouse-Gas Variations and Past Climate Responses

It is a fact that present-day (2011) concentrations of the atmospheric greenhouse gases (GHGs) carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) exceed the range of concentrations recorded in ice cores during the past 800,000 years. Past changes in atmospheric GHG concentrations can be determined with very high confidence from polar ice cores. Since AR4 these records have been extended from 650,000 years to 800,000 years ago. {5.2.2}

With very high confidence, the current rates of CO2, CH4 and N2O rise in atmospheric concentrations and the associated radiative forcing are unprecedented with respect to the highest resolution ice core records of the last 22,000 years. There is medium confidence that the rate of change of the observed GHG rise is also unprecedented compared with the lower resolution records of the past 800,000 years. {5.2.2}

There is high confidence that changes in atmospheric CO2 concentration play an important role in glacial–interglacial cycles. Although the primary driver of glacial–interglacial cycles lies in the seasonal and latitudinal distribution of incoming solar energy driven by changes in the geometry of the Earth's orbit around the Sun (“orbital forcing”), reconstructions and simulations together show that the full magnitude of glacial–interglacial temperature and ice volume changes cannot be explained without accounting for changes in atmospheric CO2 content and the associated climate feedbacks. During the last deglaciation, it is very likely that global mean temperature increased by 3°C to 8°C.

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Climate Change 2013 – The Physical Science Basis
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