“Atmospheric lifetime of fossil fuel carbon dioxide” (2009)

These basic facts do not appear to be widely known, so it’s a good thing this classic paper is now available in a new, easily accessible form.

David Archer, Michael Eby, Victor Brovkin, Andy Ridgwell, Long Cao, Uwe Mikolajewicz, Ken Caldeira, Katsumi Matsumoto, Guy Munhoven, Alvaro Montenegro, and Kathy Tokos, “Atmospheric lifetime of fossil fuel carbon dioxide“, Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences, 37, May 2009, 117-134.

As I recently wrote elsewhere, in the Comments:

That CO2 remains in atmosphere for millenia is the key piece of information, after acknowledgement of CO2 radiative forcing and massive scale of anthropogenic emissions, which should inform both policy and public appreciation of the problem of climate change. The atmospheric lifetime of fossil fuel emissions does not seem to be widely appreciated.

I also quoted a key section of Archer, et al:

In the real world, the leftover CO2 in the atmosphere after ocean invasion interacts with the land biosphere and is taken up by pH-neutralization reactions with calcium carbonate (CaCO3) and the CaO component of igneous rocks (Table 1). The timescales for these processes range from thousands to hundreds of thousands of years. Keeling & Bacastow (1977) predicted that it would take at least 10,000 years for atmospheric CO2 to return to preindustrial levels. Walker & Kasting (1992) reached a similar conclusion but extended the duration of the long tail to hundreds of thousands of years. Broecker & Takahashi (1978) described the neutralization reaction with CaCO3. Many other carbon cycle models of a variety of configurations and resolutions have found the same result (Sundquist 1990, Caldeira & Kasting 1993, Archer 2005, Lenton & Britton 2006, Montenegro et al. 2007, Ridgwell & Hargreaves 2007, Tyrrell et al. 2007). The mean lifetime of the elevated CO2 concentration of the atmosphere resulting from fossil fuel combustion has been calculated to be tens of thousands of years (Archer et al. 1997), not at all similar to the 50- to 100-year lifetime calculated using the linear approximation based on fluxes immediately following a release of CO2 to the atmosphere. Clearly, the linear approximation, using a single characteristic timescale for the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere, is a poor representation of the way the carbon cycle works. An analogy can be drawn with radioactive waste, for which the decay of its radioactivity as a whole will not conform to any single exponential decay curve because it is composed of a variety of different radionuclides with a wide range of half-lives.

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One Response to “Atmospheric lifetime of fossil fuel carbon dioxide” (2009)

  1. Pingback: Getting back to 350 ppm CO2: You can’t go home again | Hypergeometric

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