Publications by Raymond Pierrehumbert


Demonstrating GWP*: a means of reporting warming-equivalent emissions that captures the contrasting impacts of short- and long-lived climate pollutants

Environmental Research Letters IOP Publishing (2020)

JM Lynch, M Cain, RT Pierrehumbert, M Allen

The atmospheric lifetime and radiative impacts of different climate pollutants can both differ markedly, so metrics that equate emissions using a single scaling factor, such as the 100-year Global Warming Potential (GWP100), can be misleading. An alternative approach is to report emissions as 'warming-equivalents' that result in similar warming impacts without requiring a like-for-like weighting per emission. GWP*, an alternative application of GWPs where the CO2-equivalence of short-lived climate pollutant (SLCP) emissions is predominantly determined by changes in their emission rate, provides a straightforward means of generating warming-equivalent emissions. In this letter we illustrate the contrasting climate impacts resulting from emissions of methane, a short-lived greenhouse gas, and CO2, and compare GWP100 and GWP* CO2-equivalents for a number of simple emissions scenarios. We demonstrate that GWP* provides a useful indication of warming, while conventional application of GWP100 falls short in many scenarios and particularly when methane emissions are stable or declining, with important implications for how we consider 'zero emission' or 'climate neutral' targets for sectors emitting different compositions of gases. We then illustrate how GWP* can provide an improved means of assessing alternative mitigation strategies. GWP* allows warming-equivalent emissions to be calculated directly from CO2-equivalent emissions reported using GWP100, consistent with the "Paris Rulebook" agreed by the UNFCCC. It provides a direct link between emissions and anticipated warming impacts, supporting stocktakes of progress towards a long-term temperature goal and compatible with cumulative emissions budgets.


Ice, fire, or fizzle: The climate footprint of Earth's supercontinental cycles

Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems American Geophysical Union 21 (2020) e2019GC008464

M Jellinek, A Lenardic, R Pierrehumbert

Supercontinent assembly and breakup can influence the rate and global extent to which insulated and relatively warm subcontinental mantle is mixed globally, potentially introducing lateral oceanic‐continental mantle temperature variations that regulate volcanic and weathering controls on Earth's long‐term carbon cycle for a few hundred million years. We propose that the relatively warm and unchanging climate of the Nuna supercontinental epoch (1.8–1.3 Ga) is characteristic of thorough mantle thermal mixing. By contrast, the extreme cooling‐warming climate variability of the Neoproterozoic Rodinia episode (1–0.63 Ga) and the more modest but similar climate change during the Mesozoic Pangea cycle (0.3–0.05 Ga) are characteristic features of the effects of subcontinental mantle thermal isolation with differing longevity. A tectonically modulated carbon cycle model coupled to a one‐dimensional energy balance climate model predicts the qualitative form of Mesozoic climate evolution expressed in tropical sea‐surface temperature and ice sheet proxy data. Applied to the Neoproterozoic, this supercontinental control can drive Earth into, as well as out of, a continuous or intermittently panglacial climate, consistent with aspects of proxy data for the Cryogenian‐Ediacaran period. The timing and magnitude of this cooling‐warming climate variability depends, however, on the detailed character of mantle thermal mixing, which is incompletely constrained. We show also that the predominant modes of chemical weathering and a tectonically paced abiotic methane production at mid‐ocean ridges can modulate the intensity of this climate change. For the Nuna epoch, the model predicts a relatively warm and ice‐free climate related to mantle dynamics potentially consistent with the intense anorogenic magmatism of this period.


Thermodynamic and energetic limits on continental silicate weathering strongly impact the climate and habitability of wet, rocky worlds

Astrophysical Journal American Astronomical Society 896 (2020) 115

R Graham, R Pierrehumbert

The “liquid water habitable zone” (HZ) concept is predicated on the ability of the silicate weathering feedback to stabilize climate across a wide range of instellations. However, representations of silicate weathering used in current estimates of the effective outer edge of the HZ do not account for the thermodynamic limit on concentration of weathering products in runoff set by clay precipitation, nor for the energetic limit on precipitation set by planetary instellation. We find that when the thermodynamic limit is included in an idealized coupled climate/weathering model, steady-state planetary climate loses sensitivity to silicate dissolution kinetics, becoming sensitive to temperature primarily through the effect of temperature on runoff and to pCO2 through an effect on solute concentration mediated by pH. This increases sensitivity to land fraction, CO2 outgassing, and geological factors such as soil age and lithology, all of which are found to have a profound effect on the position of the effective outer edge of the HZ. The interplay between runoff sensitivity and the energetic limit on precipitation leads to novel warm states in the outer reaches of the HZ, owing to the decoupling of temperature and precipitation. We discuss strategies for detecting the signature of silicate weathering feedback through exoplanet observations in light of insights derived from the revised picture of weathering.


There is no Plan B for dealing with the climate crisis

BULLETIN OF THE ATOMIC SCIENTISTS Informa UK Limited 75 (2019) 215-221

R Pierrehumbert

© 2019, © 2019 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. To halt global warming, the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by human activities such as fossil fuel burning, cement production, and deforestation needs to be brought all the way to zero. The longer it takes to do so, the hotter the world will get. Lack of progress towards decarbonization has created justifiable panic about the climate crisis. This has led to an intensified interest in technological climate interventions that involve increasing the reflection of sunlight to space by injecting substances into the stratosphere which lead to the formation of highly reflective particles. When first suggested, such albedo modification schemes were introduced as a “Plan B,” in case the world economy fails to decarbonize, and this scenario has dominated much of the public perception of albedo modification as a savior waiting in the wings to protect the world against massive climate change arising from a failure to decarbonize. But because of the mismatch between the millennial persistence time of carbon dioxide and the sub-decadal persistence of stratospheric particles, albedo modification can never safely play more than a very minor role in the portfolio of solutions. There is simply no substitute for decarbonization.


Atmospheric circulation of tide-locked exoplanets

Annual Review of Fluid Mechanics Annual Reviews 51 (2018) 75-303

R Pierrehumbert, M Hammond

Tide-locked planets are planets in which tidal stresses from the host star have spun down the planet’s rotation to the point where its length of side-real day equals its length of year. In a nearly circular orbit, such planets have a permanent dayside and a permanent nightside, leading to extreme heating contrasts. In this article, the atmospheric circulations forced by this heating contrast are explored, with a focus on terrestrial planets; here, “terrestrial” refers to planets with a condensed solid or liquid surface at which most of the incident stellar radiation is absorbed and does not imply habitability in the Earthlike sense. The census of exoplanets contains many terrestrial planets that are very likely to be tide locked, including extremely hot close-orbit planets around Sunlike stars and habitable zone (and hotter) planets around lower-mass stars. The circulations are discussed in terms of fluid dynamical concepts arising from study of the Earth’s tropics, supplemented by general circulation model simulations. Even in the relatively simple context of dry (noncondensing) dynamics, there are a number of important unresolved issues that require further study.


Climate impacts of cultured meat and beef cattle

Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems Frontiers Media 3 (2019) 5

J Lynch, R Pierrehumbert

Improved greenhouse gas (GHG) emission efficiency of production has been proposed as one of the biggest potential advantages of cultured meat over conventional livestock production systems. Comparisons with beef are typically highlighted, as it is a highly emissions intensive food product. In this study, we present a more rigorous comparison of the potential climate impacts of cultured meat and cattle production than has previously been made. Warming impacts are evaluated using a simple climate model that simulates the different behaviors of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O), rather than relying on carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) metrics. We compare the temperature impact of beef cattle and cultured meat production at all times to 1,000 years in the future, using four synthetic meat GHG footprints currently available in the literature and three different beef production systems studied in an earlier climate modeling paper. Cattle systems are associated with the production of all three GHGs above, including significant emissions of CH4, while cultured meat emissions are almost entirely CO2 from energy generation. Under continuous high global consumption, cultured meat results in less warming than cattle initially, but this gap narrows in the long term and in some cases cattle production causes far less warming, as CH4 emissions do not accumulate, unlike CO2. We then model a decline in meat consumption to more sustainable levels following high consumption, and show that although cattle systems generally result in greater peak warming than cultured meat, the warming effect declines and stabilizes under the new emission rates of cattle systems, while the CO2 based warming from cultured meat persists and accumulates even under reduced consumption, again overtaking cattle production in some scenarios. We conclude that cultured meat is not prima facie climatically superior to cattle; its relative impact instead depends on the availability of decarbonized energy generation and the specific production systems that are realized.


Meat consumption, health and the environment

Science American Association for the Advancement of Science 361 (2018) 5324-

C Godfray, P Aveyard, T Garnett, J Hall, T Key, J Lorimer, R Pierrehumbert, P Scarborough, M Springmann, S Jebb

Both the global average per capita consumption of meat and the total amount of meat consumed are rising, driven by increasing average individual incomes and by population growth. The consumption of different types of meat and meat products has substantial effects on people’s health, and livestock production can have major negative effects on the environment. Here, we explore the evidence base for these assertions and the options policy-makers have should they wish to intervene to affect population meat consumption. We highlight where more research is required and the great importance of integrating insights from the natural and social sciences.


Exploring the atmosphere of Neoproterozoic Earth: The effect of O2 on haze formation and composition

Astrophysical Journal American Astronomical Society 858 (2018) 119

S Hörst, C He, AM Jellinek, R Pierrehumbert, MA Tolbert

Previous studies of haze formation in the atmosphere of the early Earth have focused on N2/CO2/CH4 atmospheres. Here, we experimentally investigate the effect of O2 on the formation and composition of aerosols to improve our understanding of haze formation on the Neoproterozoic Earth. We obtained in situ size, particle density, and composition measurements of aerosol particles produced from N2/CO2/CH4/O2 gas mixtures subjected to FUV radiation (115–400 nm) for a range of initial CO2/CH4/O2 mixing ratios (O2 ranging from 2 ppm to 0.2%). At the lowest O2 concentration (2 ppm), the addition increased particle production for all but one gas mixture. At higher oxygen concentrations (20 ppm and greater), particles are still produced, but the addition of O2 decreases the production rate. Both the particle size and number density decrease with increasing O2, indicating that O2 affects particle nucleation and growth. The particle density increases with increasing O2. The addition of CO2 and O2 not only increases the amount of oxygen in the aerosol, but it also increases the degree of nitrogen incorporation. In particular, the addition of O2 results in the formation of nitrate-bearing molecules. The fact that the presence of oxygen-bearing molecules increases the efficiency of nitrogen fixation has implications for the role of haze as a source of molecules required for the origin and evolution of life. The composition changes also likely affect the absorption and scattering behavior of these particles but optical property measurements are required to fully understand the implications for the effect on the planetary radiative energy balance and climate.


Global or local pure-condensible atmospheres: Importance of horizontal latent heat transport

Astrophysical Journal Institute of Physics Publishing, Inc 867 (2018)

F Ding, RT Pierrehumbert


A chemical survey of exoplanets with ARIEL

Experimental Astronomy Springer 46 (2018) 135–209-

G Tinetti, P Drossart, P Eccleston, P Hartogh, A Heske, J Leconte, G Micela, M Ollivier, P Eccleston, G Pilbratt, L Puig, D Turrini, N Bowles

Thousands of exoplanets have now been discovered with a huge range of masses, sizes and orbits: from rocky Earth-like planets to large gas giants grazing the surface of their host star. However, the essential nature of these exoplanets remains largely mysterious: there is no known, discernible pattern linking the presence, size, or orbital parameters of a planet to the nature of its parent star. We have little idea whether the chemistry of a planet is linked to its formation environment, or whether the type of host star drives the physics and chemistry of the planet’s birth, and evolution. The Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey (ARIEL) has been selected by the European Space Agency as the next mediumclass science mission, M4, to address these scientific questions. ARIEL was conceived to observe a large number (~1000) of transiting planets for statistical understanding, including gas giants, Neptunes, super-Earths and Earth-size planets around a range of host star types using transit spectroscopy in the 1.25-7.8 μm spectral range and multiple narrow-band photometry in the optical. ARIEL will focus on warm and hot planets to take advantage of their well-mixed atmospheres which should show minimal condensation and sequestration of high-Z materials compared to their colder Solar System siblings. Said warm and hot atmospheres are expected to be more representative of the planetary bulk composition. Observations of these warm/hot exoplanets, and in particular of their elemental composition (especially C, O, N, S, Si), will allow the understanding of the early stages of planetary and atmospheric formation during the nebular phase and the following few million years. ARIEL will thus provide a representative picture of the chemical nature of the exoplanets and relate this directly to the type and chemical environment of the host star. ARIEL is designed as a dedicated survey mission for combined-light spectroscopy, capable of observing a large and well-defined planet sample within its 4-year mission lifetime. Transit, eclipse and phase-curve spectroscopy methods, whereby the signal from the star and planet are differentiated using knowledge of the planetary ephemerides, allow us to measure atmospheric signals from the planet at levels of 10-100 part per million (ppm) relative to the star and, given the bright nature of targets, also allows more sophisticated techniques, such as eclipse mapping, to give a deeper insight into the nature of the atmosphere. These types of observations require a stable payload and satellite platform with broad, instantaneous wavelength coverage to detect many molecular species, probe the thermal structure, identify clouds and monitor the stellar activity. The wavelength range proposed covers all the expected major atmospheric gases from e.g. H2O, CO2, CH4 NH3, HCN, H2S through to the more exotic metallic compounds, such as TiO, VO, and condensed species. Simulations of ARIEL performance in conducting exoplanet surveys have been performed – using conservative estimates of mission performance and a full model of all significant noise sources in the measurement – using a list of potential ARIEL targets that incorporates the latest available exoplanet statistics. The conclusion at the end of the Phase A study, is that ARIEL – in line with the stated mission objectives – will be able to observe about 1000 exoplanets depending on the details of the adopted survey strategy, thus confirming the feasibility of the main science objectives.


Wave-mean flow interactions in the atmospheric circulation of tidally locked planets

Astrophysical Journal IOP Publishing 869 (2018)

M Hammond, R Pierrehumbert

We use a linear shallow-water model to investigate the global circulation of the atmospheres of tidally locked planets. Simulations, observations, and simple models show that if these planets are sufficiently rapidly rotating, their atmospheres have an eastward equatorial jet and a hot-spot east of the substellar point. We linearize the shallow-water model about this eastward flow and its associated geostrophic height perturbation. The forced solutions of this system show that the shear flow explains the form of the global circulation, particularly the hot-spot shift and the positions of the cold standing waves on the night-side. We suggest that the eastward hot-spot shift in observations and 3D simulations of these atmospheres is caused by the zonal flow Doppler-shifting the stationary wave response eastwards, summed with the geostrophic height perturbation from the flow itself. This differs from other studies which explained the hot-spot shift as pure advection of heat from air flowing eastward from the substellar point, or as equatorial waves travelling eastwards. We compare our solutions to simulations in our climate model Exo-FMS and show that they matched the position of the eastward-shifted hot-spot, and the global wind pattern. We discuss how planetary properties affect the global circulation, and how they change observables such as the hot-spot shift or day-night contrast. We conclude that the wave-mean flow interaction be tween the stationary planetary waves and the equatorial jet is a vital part of the equilibrium circulation on tidally locked planets.


Ice-shelf damming in the glacial Arctic Ocean: dynamical regimes of a basin-covering kilometre-thick ice shelf

Cryosphere European Geosciences Union 11 (2017) 1745-1765

J Nilsson, M Jakobsson, C Borstad, N Kirchner, G Björk, R Pierrehumbert, C Stranne

Recent geological and geophysical data suggest that a 1km thick ice shelf extended over the glacial Arctic Ocean during Marine Isotope Stage 6, about 140000 years ago. Here, we theoretically analyse the development and equilibrium features of such an ice shelf, using scaling analyses and a one-dimensional ice-sheet–ice-shelf model. We find that the dynamically most consistent scenario is an ice shelf with a nearly uniform thickness that covers the entire Arctic Ocean. Further, the ice shelf has two regions with distinctly different dynamics: a vast interior region covering the central Arctic Ocean and an exit region towards the Fram Strait. In the interior region, which is effectively dammed by the Fram Strait constriction, there are strong back stresses and the mean ice-shelf thickness is controlled primarily by the horizontally integrated mass balance. A narrow transition zone is found near the continental grounding line, in which the ice-shelf thickness decreases offshore and approaches the mean basin thickness. If the surface accumulation and mass flow from the continental ice masses are sufficiently large, the ice-shelf thickness grows to the point where the ice shelf grounds on the Lomonosov Ridge. As this occurs, the back stress increases in the Amerasian Basin and the ice-shelf thickness becomes larger there than in the Eurasian Basin towards the Fram Strait. Using a one-dimensional ice-dynamic model, the stability of equilibrium ice-shelf configurations without and with grounding on the Lomonosov Ridge are examined. We find that the grounded ice-shelf configuration should be stable if the two Lomonosov Ridge grounding lines are located on the opposites sides of the ridge crest, implying that the downstream grounding line is located on a downward sloping bed. This result shares similarities with the classical result on marine ice-sheet stability of Weertman, but due to interactions between the Amerasian and Eurasian ice-shelf segments the mass flux at the downstream grounding line decreases rather than increases with ice thickness.


Observational evidence against strongly stabilizing tropical cloud feedbacks

Geophysical Research Letters American Geophysical Union 44 (2017) 1503-1510

IN Williams, R Pierrehumbert

We present a method to attribute cloud radiative feedbacks to convective processes, using sub-cloud layer buoyancy as a diagnostic of stable and deep convective regimes. Applying this approach to tropical remote-sensing measurements over years 2000-2016 shows that an inferred negative short-term cloud feedback from deep convection was nearly offset by a positive cloud feedback from stable regimes. The net cloud feedback was within statistical uncertainty of the NCAR Community Atmosphere Model (CAM5) with historical forcings, with discrepancies in the partitioning of the cloud feedback into convective regimes. Compensation between high-cloud responses to tropics-wide warming in stable and unstable regimes resulted in smaller net changes in high-cloud fraction with warming. In addition, deep convection and associated high clouds set in at warmer temperatures in response to warming, as a consequence of nearly invariant sub-cloud buoyancy. This invariance further constrained the magnitude of cloud radiative feedbacks, and is consistent with climate model projections.


Linking the climate and thermal phase curve of 55 Cancri e

Astrophysical Journal American Astronomical Society (2017)

M Hammond, R Pierrehumbert

The thermal phase curve of 55 Cancri e is the first measurement of the temperature distribution of a tidally locked Super-Earth, but raises a number of puzzling questions about the planet's climate. The phase curve has a high amplitude and peak offset, suggesting that it has a significant eastward hot-spot shift as well as a large day-night temperature contrast. We use a general circulation model to model potential climates, and investigate the relation between bulk atmospheric composition and the magnitude of these seemingly contradictory features. We confirm theoretical models of tidally locked circulation are consistent with our numerical model of 55 Cnc e, and rule out certain atmospheric compositions based on their thermodynamic properties. Our best-fitting atmosphere has a significant hot- spot shift and day-night contrast, although these are not as large as the observed phase curve. We discuss possible physical processes which could explain the observations, and show that night-side cloud formation from species such as SiO from a day-side magma ocean could potentially increase the phase curve amplitude and explain the observations. We conclude that the observations could be explained by an optically thick atmosphere with a low mean molecular weight, a surface pressure of several bar and a strong eastward circulation, with night-side cloud formation a possible explanation for the difference between our model and the observations.


Mountain glaciers as paleoclimate proxies

Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences Annual Reviews 49 (2017) 649-680

AN Mackintosh, BM Anderson, R Pierrehumbert

Glaciers offer the potential to reconstruct past climate over timescales from decades to millennia. They are found on nearly every continent, and at the Last Glacial Maximum, glaciers were larger in all regions on Earth. The physics of glacier-climate interaction is relatively well understood, and glacier models can be used to reconstruct past climate from geological evidence of past glacier extent. This can lead to significant insights regarding past, present and future climate. For example, glacier modelling has demonstrated that the near ubiquitous global pattern of glacier retreat during the last few centuries resulted from a global-scale climate warming of ~1°C, consistent with instrumental data and climate proxy records. Climate reconstructions from glaciers also demonstrated that the tropics were colder at the Last Glacial Maximum than was originally inferred from sea surface temperature reconstructions. Future efforts to reconstruct climate from glaciers may provide new constraints on climate sensitivity to CO2 forcing, polar amplification of climate change, and more.


5 Things We Know to Be True.

Scientific American 315 (2016) 46-53

M Shermer, H Hall, R Pierrehumbert, P Offit, S Shostak


Consequences of twenty-first-century policy for multi-millennial climate and sea-level change

NATURE CLIMATE CHANGE 6 (2016) 360-369

PU Clark, JD Shakun, SA Marcott, AC Mix, M Eby, S Kulp, A Levermann, GA Milne, PL Pfister, BD Santer, DP Schrag, S Solomon, TF Stocker, BH Strauss, AJ Weaver, R Winkelmann, D Archer, E Bard, A Goldner, K Lambeck, RT Pierrehumbert, G-K Plattner


How to decarbonize? Look to Sweden

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Routledge 72 (2016) 105-111

R Pierrehumbert

Bringing global warming to a halt requires that worldwide net emissions of carbon dioxide be brought to essentially zero, and the sooner this occurs, the less warming our descendants for the next thousand years and more will need to adapt to. The widespread fear that the actions needed to bring this about conflict with economic growth is a major impediment to efforts to protect the climate. However, much of this fear is pointless, and the magnitude of the task, while great, is no greater than challenges human ingenuity has surmounted in the past. To light the way forward, there is a need for examining success stories in which nations have greatly reduced their carbon dioxide emissions while simultaneously maintaining vigorous growth in the standard of living. In this article, the example of Sweden is showcased. Through a combination of sensible government infrastructure policies and free-market incentives, Sweden has managed to successfully decarbonize, cutting its per capita emissions by a factor of three since the 1970s, while doubling its pre capita income and providing a wide range of social benefits. This has all be accomplished within a vigorous capitalistic framework which in many ways embodies freemarket principles better than the economy of the United States.


Convection in condensible-rich atmospheres

Astrophysical Journal IOP Publishing 822 (2016) 24-24

F Ding, R Pierrehumbert

Condensible substances are nearly ubiquitous in planetary atmospheres. For the most familiar case—water vapor in Earth's present climate—the condensible gas is dilute, in the sense that its concentration is everywhere small relative to the noncondensible background gases. A wide variety of important planetary climate problems involve nondilute condensible substances. These include planets near or undergoing a water vapor runaway and planets near the outer edge of the conventional habitable zone, for which CO2 is the condensible. Standard representations of convection in climate models rely on several approximations appropriate only to the dilute limit, while nondilute convection differs in fundamental ways from dilute convection. In this paper, a simple parameterization of convection valid in the nondilute as well as dilute limits is derived and used to discuss the basic character of nondilute convection. The energy conservation properties of the scheme are discussed in detail and are verified in radiative-convective simulations. As a further illustration of the behavior of the scheme, results for a runaway greenhouse atmosphere for both steady instellation and seasonally varying instellation corresponding to a highly eccentric orbit are presented. The latter case illustrates that the high thermal inertia associated with latent heat in nondilute atmospheres can damp out the effects of even extreme seasonal forcing.


Dynamics of atmospheres with a non-dilute condensible component

Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series A, Mathematical and physical sciences Royal Society, The 472 (2016) 20160107

RT Pierrehumbert, F Ding

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