Constraining temperature variations over the last millennium by comparing simulated and observed atmospheric CO2

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The response of atmospheric CO2 and climate to the reconstructed variability in solar irradiance and radiative forcing by volcanoes over the last millennium is examined by applying a coupled physical-biogeochemical climate model that includes the Lund-Potsdam-Jena dynamic global vegetation model (LPJ-DGVM) and a simplified analogue of a coupled atmosphere-ocean general circulation model. The modeled variations of atmospheric CO2 and Northern Hemisphere (NH) mean surface temperature are compatible with reconstructions from different Antarctic ice cores and temperature proxy data. Simulations where the magnitude of solar irradiance changes is increased yield a mismatch between model results and CO2 data, providing evidence for modest changes in solar irradiance and global mean temperatures over the past millennium and arguing against a significant amplification of the response of global or hemispheric annual mean temperature to solar forcing. Linear regression (r = 0.97) between modeled changes in atmospheric CO2 and NH mean surface temperature yields a CO2 increase of about 12 ppm for a temperature increase of 1 °C and associated precipitation and cloud cover changes. Then, the CO2 data range of 12 ppm implies that multi-decadal NH temperature changes between 1100 and 1700 AD had to be within 1 °C. Modeled preindustrial variations in atmospheric δ13C are small compared to the uncertainties in ice core δ13C data. Simulations with natural forcings only suggest that atmospheric CO2 would have remained around the preindustrial concentration of 280 ppm without anthropogenic emissions. Sensitivity experiments show that atmospheric CO2 closely follows decadal-mean temperature changes when changes in ocean circulation and ocean-sediment interactions are not important. The response in terrestrial carbon storage to factorial changes in temperature, the seasonality of temperature, precipitation, and atmospheric CO2 has been determined.


  • S. Gerber
  • F. Joos
  • P. Brügger
  • T. F. Stocker
  • M. E. Mann
  • S. Sitch
  • M. Scholze
External organisations
  • University of Bern
  • University of Virginia
  • Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research
  • Max Planck Institute for Meteorology
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Climate Research
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)281-299
Number of pages19
JournalClimate Dynamics
Issue number2-3
Publication statusPublished - 2003 Jan 1
Publication categoryResearch
Externally publishedYes