Estimates of Climate Sensitivity

(c) 2006 by Barton Paul Levenson

The "climate sensitivity" is an estimate of how much some factor in a regional or global climate would change with a specific change in some factor affecting it. That's pretty vague, of course. In practice, the term has recently come to mean the change in Earth's surface temperature that could be expected if the ambient level of carbon dioxide were doubled (usually from the preindustrial level of 280 parts per million by volume to 560 ppmv, but sometimes from 300 to 600). Below are all the estimates I could find in the literature.

Not all estimates are equal. Most of these, though not all, include the effects of climate feedbacks such as water vapor. And these estimates include ones which were later shown to be based on flawed models, erroneous reasoning or outright mistakes. Examples would be Möller's estimate of 1963, which didn't treat a column of atmosphere correctly, or Idso's estimate of 1980, which, as Schneider and others pointed out, is based on reasoning that would violate the conservation of energy. Proceed with caution. Your mileage may vary.

StudyYearEstimate (° K.)
Manabe and Wetherald19672.36
Rasool and Schneider19710.8
Weare and Snell19740.7
Manabe and Wetherald19752.93
Temkin and Snell19761.7
Augustsson and Ramanathan19771.9
Ohring and Adler19780.78
Manabe and Stouffer19794.0
Manabe and Wetherald19803.0
Chou et al.19822.29
Hall and Cacuci19822.42
Nicoli and Visconti19822.30
Gilliland and Schneider19841.6
Hansen et al.19844.2
Washington and Meehl19843.5
Wetherald and Manabe19864.0
Wilson and Mitchell19875.2
Mitchell et al.19893.5
Noda and Tokoika19894.3
Schlesinger et al.19894.3
Washington and Meehl19894.0
Wetherald and Manabe19894.0
Oglesby and Saltzman19904.0
McAvaney et al.19912.1
Boer et al.19923.5
Hoffert and Covey19922.3
Mahfouf et al.19931.4
Manabe and Stouffer19933.5
Thompson and Pollard19952.1
Chen and Ramaswamy19962.5
Gordon and O'Farrell19974.3
Hegerl et al.19973.2
MacKay et al.19972.6
Schlesinger et al.19973.378
Delworth et al.19993.4
Roeckner et al.19992.6
Boer et al.20003.5
Washington et al.20002.1
Dai et al.20012.1
Wetherald et al.20014.5
Boer and Yu20033.50
Shaviv and Veizer20030.75
Goosse et al.20061.8
Hegerl et al.20062.5

Augustsson T. and Ramanathan V. 1977. "A Radiative-Convective Model Study of the CO2 Climate Problem." J. Atmos. Sci. 34, 448-451.

Arrhenius, Svante 1896. "On the Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air Upon the Temperature of the Ground." Philosophical Magazine 41, 237-76.

Bertrand, C. 1998. "Climate simulation at the secular time scale." Thèse de doctorat, Université catholique de Louvain, 208 pp.

Boer, G. J., G. Flato, M. C. Reader, and D. Ramsden 2000. "A transient climate change simulation with greenhouse gas and aerosol forcing: Experimental design and comparison with the instrumental record for the twentieth century." Climate Dynamics 16, 405–425.

Boer, G.J., N.A. McFarlane, and M. Lazare, 1992. "Greenhouse Gas-induced Climate Change Simulated with the CCC Second-Generation General Circulation Model." J. Climate, 5, 1045-1077.

Boer George G. and Yu Bin 2003. "Dynamical aspects of climate sensitivity" Geophys. Res. Lett. 30(3), 35-1 - 35-4.

Callendar, G.S. 1938. "The Artificial Production of Carbon Dioxide and Its Influence on Climate." Quarterly J. Royal Meteorological Society 64, 223-40.

Chen C.-T. and Ramaswamy V. 1996. "Sensitivity of Simulated Global Climate to Perturbations in Low-Cloud Microphysical Processes. Part I. Globally Uniform Perturbations." J. Climate 9, 1385-1402.

Chou Ming-Dah, Peng Li, Arking Albert 1982. "Climate Studies with a Multi-Layer Energy Balance Model. Part II: The Role of Feedback Mechanisms in the CO2 Problem." J. Atmos. Sci. 39, 2657-2666.

Dai A., Wigley T. M. L., Boville B. A., Kiehl J. T., Buja L. E. 2001. "Climates of the 20th and 21st centuries simulated by the NCAR Climate System Model." J. Climate 14, 485– 519.

Delworth Thomas L., Broccoli Anthony J., Dixon Keith; Held Isaac; Knutson Thomas R., Kushner Paul J., Spelman Michael J., Stouffer Ronald J., Vinnikov, Konstantin Y., Wetherald, Richard E. 1999. "Couple Climate Modelling at GFDL: Recent Accomplishments and Future Plans." CLIVAR Exchanges 4(4), 15-20.

Gilliland, Ronald L. and Schneider, Stephen H. 1984. "Volcanic, CO2 and solar forcing of Northern and Southern Hemisphere surface air temperatures." Nature 310, 38-41.

Goosse H., Arzel O., Luterbacher J., Mann M.E., Renssen H., Riedwyl N., Timmermann A., Xoplaki E., Wanner H. 2006. "The Origin of the European 'Medieval Warm Period'." Clim. Past, 2, 99–113.

Gordon, H. B., and S. P. O'Farrell 1997. "Transient climate change in the CSIRO coupled model with dynamic sea ice, Mon. Weather Rev. 125, 875–907.

Hall C.G. and Cacuci Dan G. 1982. "Sensitivity Analysis of a Radiative-Convective Model by the Adjoint Method. J. Atmos. Sci. 39, 2038-2050.

Hansen, James, Lacis A., Rind D., Russel G., Stone P., Fung I., Ruedy R., Lerner J. 1984. "Climate Sensitivity: Analysis of Feedback Mechanisms." Climate Processes and Climate Sensitivity, Geophys. Mono. 29, 130-163. Am. Geophys. Union.

Hegerl, G. C., K. Hasselmann, U. Cubasch, J. F. B. Mitchell, E. Roeckner, R. Voss, and J. Waszkewitz 1997. "Multi-fingerprint detection and attribution analysis of greenhouse gas-plus-aerosol and solar forced climate change." Climate Dynamics 13, 613–634.

Hegerl Gabriele C., Crowley Thomas J., Hyde William T., Frame David J. 2006. "Climate Sensitivity Constrained by Temperature Reconstructions over the Past Seven Centuries." Nature 440, 1029-1032 (letter).

Hoffert, Martin I., Covey, Curt 1992. "Deriving Global Climate Sensitivity from Palaeoclimate Reconstructions." Nature 360, 573-576.

Hulburt, E.O. 1931. "The Temperature of the Lower Atmosphere of the Earth." Physical Review 38, 1876-1890.

Idso, Sherwood B. 1980. "The Climatological Significance of a Doubling of Earth's Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Concentration The Climatological Significance of a Doubling of Earth's Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Concentration." Science 207(4438), 1462-1463.

Lambert Stephen J. 1995. "The Effect of Enhanced Greenhouse Warming on Winter Cyclone Frequencies and Strengths." J. Climate 8, 1347-1452.

MacKay Robert M., Ko Malcolm K.W., Shia Run-Lie, Yang Yajaing, Zhou Shuntai, Molnar Gyula 1997. "An Estimation of the Climatic Effects of Stratospheric Ozone Losses during the 1980s." J. Climate 10(4), 774-788.

Mahfouf J.F., Cariolle D., Royer J.F., Geleyn J.F., Timbal B. 1993. "Response of the Meteo-France Climate Model to Changes in CO2 and Sea Surface Temperature." Climate Dynamics 9(7), 345-362.

Manabe, Syukuro 1971. "Estimates of future change of climate due to the increase of carbon dioxide concentration in the air." Man's Impact on the Climate, W. I-I. Matthews, W. W. Kellogg, and G. D. Robinson, Eds., Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 249-264.

Manabe Syukuro 1975. "The dependence of atmospheric temperature on the concentration of carbon dioxide" 73-77 in The Changing Global Environment, Dordrecht, D. Reidel Publishing Co.

Manabe, Syukuro, and Stouffer, Ronald J. 1979. "A CO2-Sensitivity Climate Study with a Mathematical Model of the Global Climate." Nature, 282, 491-493.

Manabe, Syukuro, and Stouffer, Ronald J. 1993. "Century-scale effects of increased atmospheric CO2 on the ocean-atmosphere system." Nature 364, 215-218.

Manabe, Syukuro, and Wetherald, Richard T. 1967. "Thermal Equilibrium of the Atmosphere with a Given Distribution of Relative Humidity." J. Atmospheric Sciences 24, 241-59.

Manabe, Syukuro, and Wetherald, Richard T. 1980. "On the Distribution of Climate Change Resulting from an Increase of CO2 Content of the Atmosphere."

Manabe, Syukuro, and Wetherald, Richard T. 1975. "The effects of doubling the CO2 concentration on the climate of a general circulation model." J. Atmos Sci. 32, 3–15

McAvaney, B.J., Colman. R., Fraser, J.F., and Dahni, R.R. 1991. "The response of the BMRC AGCM to a doubling of CO2." BMRC Technical Memorandum No. 3 (in preparation).

Mitchell, J.F.B., Senior, C.A., and Ingram, W. J. 1989. "CO2 and climate: A missing feedback?." Nature, 341, 132-134.

Möller, Fritz 1963. "On the Influence of Changes in the CO2 Concentration in Air on the Radiation Balance of the Earth's Surface and on the Climate." J. Geophysical Research 68, 3877-3886.

Nicoli Maria Pia and Visconti Guido 1982. "Impact of Coupled Perturbations of Atmospheric Trace Gases on Earth's Climate and Ozone" Pure Appl. Geophys. 120(4), 626-641.

Noda, A., and Tokoika, T. 1989. "The effect of doubling CO2 concentration on convective and nonconvective precipitation in a general circulation model coupled with a simple mixed layer ocean." J. Met. Soc. Japan, 67, 95-110.

Oglesby, R.J., and Saltzman, B., 1990. "Sensitivity of the equilibrium surface temperature of a GCM to systematic changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide." Geophysical Research Letters, 17(8), 1089-1092.

Ohring George and Adler Shoshana 1978. "Some Experiments with a Zonally Averaged Climate Model." J. Atmos. Sci. 35(2), 186-205.

Plass, Gilbert N. 1956. "The carbon dioxide theory of climatic change." Tellus 8, 140-154.

Ramanathan, V. 1981. "The Role of Ocean-Atmosphere Interactions in the CO2 Climate Problem." J. Atmos. Sci. 38, 918-930.

Rasool, S.I. and Schneider H.I. 1971. "Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide and Aerosols: Effects of Large Increases on Global Climate." Science 173, 138-141.

Roeckner, E., L. Bengtsson, J. Feichter, J. Lelieveld, and H. Rodhe 1999. "Transient climate change simulations with a coupled atmosphere-ocean GCM including the tropospheric sulfur cycle" J. Climate, 12, 3004–3032.

Schlesinger Michael E., Zhao Zong-Ci, Vickers Dean 1989. "Design and Critical Appraisal of an Accelerated Integration Procedure for Atmospheric GCM/Mixed-Layer Ocean Models." J. Climate 2, 641-655.

Schlesinger, M.E., N. Andronova, A. Ghanem, S. Malyshev, T. Reichler, E. Rozanov, W. Wang and F. Yangi 1997. "Geophysical Scenarios of Greenhouse_Gas and Anthropogenic Sulfate Aerosol Induced Climate Changes." Climate Research Group Report, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of illinois at Urbana Champaign, Urbana, IL, USA.

Sellers, William D. 1973. "A New Global Climatic Model." J. Appl. Meteorol. 12, 241-254.

Sellers, William D. 1974. "A Reassessment of the Effect of CO2 Variations On a Simple Global Climatic Model." J. Appl. Meteorol. 13, 831-833.

Shaviv, N., Veizer, J. 2003. "Celestial driver of Phanerozoic climate?" GSA Today 13(7), 4-10.

Stern, David I. 2005. "An atmosphere–ocean time series model of global climate change." Computational Statistics & Data Analysis uncorrected proof --, accessed 1/31/2007

Sumi, Akimasa 2005. "Global Warming Simulation due to the High Resolution Climate Model by Using the Earth Simulator." Annual Report of the Earth Simulator Center April 2004 - March 2005.

Temkin Richard L. and Snell Fred M. 1976. "An Annual Zonally Averaged Hemispherical Climatic Model with Diffuse Cloudiness Feedback." J. Atmos. Sci. 33(9), 1671-1685.

Thompson, S.L. and Pollard, D. 1995. "A global climate model (GENESIS) with a Land-Surface-Transfer Scheme (LSX). Part 2: CO2 sensitivity." J. Climate, 8, 1104-1121.

Washington, W.M., and Meehl, G.A. 1984. "Seasonal cycle experiments on the climate sensitivity due to a doubling of CO2 with an atmospheric GCM Coupled to a simple mixed layer ocean model." J. Geophys. Res., 89, 9475-9503.

Washington, W.M., and Meehl, G.A. 1989. "Climate sensitivity due to increased CO2: experiments with a coupled atmosphere and ocean general circulation model." Climate Dynamics, 4, 1-38.

Washington, W. M., J. W. Weatherly, G. A. Meehl, A. J. Semtner, T. W. Bettge, A. P. Craig, W. G. Strand, J. Arblaster, V. B. Wayland, R. James, and Y. Zhang 2000. "Parallel climate model (PCM) control and transient simulations" Climate Dynamics 16, 755– 774.

Weare B.C. and Snell F.M. 1974. "A Diffuse Thin Cloud Structure as a Feedback Mechanism in Global Climatic Modeling." J. Atmos. Sci. 31, 1725-1734.

Wetherald, R.T., and Manabe, S. 1986. "An investigation of cloud cover change in response to thermal forcing." Climatic Change, 10, 11-42.

Wetherald, R.T., and Manabe, S. 1989. "Cloud feedback processes in a general circulation model." J. Atmos. Sci., 45, 1397-1415.

Wetherald, Richard T., Stouffer, Ronald J., Dixon, Keith W. 2001. "Committed Warming and its Implications for Climate Change." Geophys. Res. Lett. 28(8), 1535-1538.

Wilson, C.A., and Mitchell, J.F.B. 1987. "Simulated climate and CO2 induced climate change over western Europe." Climatic Change, 19, 11-42.

Wolbarst, Anthony B. 1999. "Effective thermal conduction model for estimating global warming." American Journal of Physics 67(10), 885–890.

The following table shows the climate sensitivity of various global climate models. Some of these references duplicate some of those above.

ModelStudyEstimate (° K.)
AGCM/MLOSchlesinger et al. 19973.378
BMRC AGCMMcAvaney et al. 19912.1
CCC GCMIILambert 19953.5
CCCma MLOMBoer and Yu 20033.50
CCCma FDOMBoer and Yu 20033.50
CCMWashington and Meehl 19843.5
CGCM1Boer et al. 20003.5
CM2.0Stouffer et al. 20052.9
CM2.1Stouffer et al. 20053.4
CSIRO-Mk2Gordon and O'Farrell 19974.3
ECBILT-CLIO-VECODEGoosse et al. 20061.8
ECHAM3/LSGHegerl et al. 19973.2
ECHAM4/OPYC3Roeckner et al. 19992.6
GENESIS 1.02Thompson and Pollard 19952.1
GFDL_R30Delworth et al. 20013.4
GISSHansen et al. 19844.2
LMD4COLe Treu et al. 19943.9
LMD4MOLe Treu et al. 19943.6
MRI CGCM2.0Yukimoto and Noda 20021.1
MRI CGCM2.2Yukimoto and Noda 20021.8
OSUSchlesinger et al. 19894.3
PCMWashington et al. 20002.1
UKMOWilson and Mitchell 19875.2
UKMO HadCM2Hulme et al. 19992.5
UKMO HadCM3Hulme et al. 19993.3

Citations for studies listing multiple models:

Boer George G. and Yu Bin 2003. "Dynamical aspects of climate sensitivity" Geophys. Res. Lett. 30(3), 35-1 - 35-4.

Hulme Mike, Mitchell John, Ingram William, Lowe Jason, Johns Tim, mark New, Viner David 1999. "Climate Change Scenarios for Global Impact Studies." Submitted to Global Environmental Change.

Le Treu H., Li Z. X., Forichon M. 1994. "Sensitivity of the LMD General Circulation Model to Greenhouse Forcing Associated with Two Different Cloud Water Parameterizations." J. Climate 7, 1827-1841.

R. J. Stouffer, A. J. Broccoli, T. L. Delworth, K. W. Dixon, R. Gudgel, I. Held, R. Hemler, T. Knutson, Hyun-Chul Lee, M. D. Schwarzkopf, B. Soden, M. J. Spelman, M. Winton, Fanrong Zeng 2005. "GFDL's CM2 Global Coupled Climate Models. Part IV: Idealized Climate Response." J Clim. Special Section 19, 723-740

Yukimoto Seiji, Noda Akira 2002. "Improvements of the Meteorological Research Institute Global Ocean-atmosphere Coupled GCM (MRI-CGCM2) and its Climate Sensitivity." CGer's Supercomputer Activity Report 10, 37-44. NIES.

Some acronyms:

AGCMAtmospheric General Circulation Model
CCCCanadian Climate Centre
CCMCommunity Climate Model
CGCMCoupled Global Climate Model
CMClimate Model
COControl version (for LMD GCM)
CSIROCommonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization
ECHAMEuropean Center HAMburg global climate model
GFDLGeophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (Princeton NJ, associated with NOAA (qv))
GISSGoddard Institute for Space Studies
LMDLaboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique
MLOMixed Layer Ocean
MO Modified version (for LMD GCM)
NCARNational Center for Atmospheric Research (Boulder CO)
NOAANational Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration
OSUOregon State University
PCMParallel Climate Model

Some statistical notes

First table (all known estimates)

The estimates appear to be roughly normally distributed, though slightly skewed left:

chart image

In summary statistics, N = 61, the mean is 2.86, and the sample standard deviation is 1.50. Notice how the estimates are beginning to converge with time:

chart image

Second table (major GCMs)

Again the distribution is roughly normal:

chart image

In summary statistics, N = 25, the mean is 3.15, and the sample standard deviation is 0.95. There is less convergence here, and there seems to be a slight downward trend, although this is exaggerated a bit by the positions of the outliers:

chart image

Page created:07/16/2007
Last modified:  02/05/2011