Theoretical equation explains global warming

While global warming has become a term we are unfortunately too familiar with, we are still failing to fully pinpoint what are its exact causes and, more importantly, predict precisely its consequences in the near and far future. A group of researchers from the Universities of Southampton, Liverpool and Bristol however, seem to have gotten a step closer to clarify these connections. In a paper published earlier this week in Nature Geoscience, they identified for the first time how global warming is directly related to the amount of carbon emitted.

Theoretical model shows, for the first time, direct correlation between global warming and carbon emissions (credit:

Theoretical model shows, for the first time, direct correlation between global warming and carbon emissions (credit:

The team of researchers derived a theoretical equation which reveals the complex dynamics between carbon dioxide emissions, greenhouse effects and global warming. The model also accounts for the role played by the ocean system which offsets the overall effects by absorbing both carbon and heat. Precisely, for the atmosphere-ocean system the analysis identifies a surface warming response to cumulative carbon emissions of (1.5 ± 0.7) degrees Celsius for every 1,000 Pg (petagrams, i.e. 1015 grams) of carbon emitted. The model also shows that the climate response is not immediate; it remains nearly constant on multi-decadal to centennial timescales due to the oceanic uptake of heat and carbon. The warming becomes proportional to cumulative carbon emissions only after many centuries. When the terrestrial carbon uptake is considered, the surface warming response is reduced to (1.1 ± 0.5) degree Celsius for every 1,000 Pg of carbon emitted, even though this reduction does not seem to significantly affect the overall long-term climate response.

These results seem to show that the global warming we are experiencing is a consequence of the build-up of carbon emission that started in the 1800s, when human-made carbon emissions began. They also show that the atmosphere-ocean system has a certain inertia, meaning that such build-up of carbon accumulated over the last 200 years will last for many centuries and even millennia, even if carbon emission will be eventually reduced.

To put it in the words of Professor Ric Williams, Chair in Ocean Sciences at the University of Liverpool’s School of Environmental Sciences: “Our theory reiterates a simple message: the more cumulative carbon emissions are allowed to increase, the more global surface warming will also increase”. The hope is that these results will act as a wake-up call: “We cannot wait until after significant anthropogenic warming has occurred to reduce carbon emissions and hope the climate goes back to normal by itself, it won’t.” Dr Phil Goodwin, from Ocean and Earth Science at the University of Southampton concluded.

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Carlo Bradac

Carlo Bradac

Dr Carlo Bradac is a Research Fellow at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). He studied physics and engineering at the Polytechnic of Milan (Italy) where he achieved his Bachelor of Science (2004) and Master of Science (2006) in Engineering for Physics and Mathematics. During his employment experience, he worked as Application Engineer and Process Automation & Control Engineer. In 2012 he completed his PhD in Physics at Macquarie University, Sydney (Australia). He worked as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Sydney University and Macquarie University, before moving to UTS upon receiving the Chancellor Postdoctoral Research and DECRA Fellowships.

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