‘Is there a point at which adding more CO2 will not cause for further warming?’ is one of the questions that Royal Society has answered in a guide that explains the science behind climate change.
Is there a point at which adding more CO2 will not cause further warming?
No. Adding more CO2 to the atmosphere will cause surface temperatures to continue to increase. As the atmospheric concentrations of CO2 increase, the addition of extra CO2 becomes progressively less effective at trapping Earth’s energy, but surface temperature will still rise.
Our understanding of the physics by which CO2 affects Earth’s energy balance is confirmed by laboratory measurements, as well as by detailed satellite and surface observations of the emission and absorption of infrared energy by the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases absorb some of the infrared energy that Earth emits in so-called bands of stronger absorption that occur at certain wavelengths. Different gases absorb energy at different wavelengths. CO2 has its strongest heat-trapping band centred at a wavelength of 15 micrometres (millionths of a metre), with wings that spread out a few micrometres on either side. There are also many weaker absorption bands. As CO2 concentrations increase, the absorption at the centre of the strong band is already so intense that it plays little role in causing additional warming. However, more energy is absorbed in the weaker bands and in the wings of the strong band, causing the surface and lower atmosphere to warm further.
For more information from the Royal Society’s guide click here.
Photo:NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Image by Reto Stöckli via Flickr