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Triggering global climate transitions through volcanic eruptions

Gupta, M., Marshall, J. and Ferreira, D. ORCID: (2019) Triggering global climate transitions through volcanic eruptions. Journal of Climate, 32 (12). pp. 3727-3742. ISSN 1520-0442

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1175/JCLI-D-18-0883.1


A coupled climate model with idealized representations of atmosphere, ocean, sea ice, and land is used to investigate transitions between global climate equilibria. The model supports the presence of climates with limited ice cover (Warm), a continuum of climates in which sea ice extends down into the midlatitudes and the tropics (Cold), together with a completely ice-covered earth (Snowball). Transitions between these states are triggered through volcanic eruptions, where the radiative effect of stratospheric sulfur emissions is idealized as a 1-yr impulse reduction in incoming solar radiation. Snowball transitions starting from the Cold state are more favorable than from the Warm state, because less energy must be extracted from the system. However, even when starting from a Cold climate, Toba-like volcanic events (cooling of order 2100 W m22) must be sustained continuously for several decades to glaciate the entire planet. When the deep ocean is involved, the volcanic response is characterized by relaxation time scales spanning hundreds to thousands of years. If the interval between successive eruptions is significantly shorter (years to decades) than the ocean’s characteristic time scales, the cumulative cooling can build over time and initiate a state transition. The model exhibits a single hysteresis loop that connects all three climate equilibria. When starting from a Snowball, the model cannot access the Cold branch without first transitioning to an ice-free climate and completing the hysteresis loop. By contrast, a Cold state, when warmed, transitions to the Warm equilibrium without any hysteresis.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > Department of Meteorology
ID Code:83783
Publisher:American Meteorological Society


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