Climate and carbon cycle changes under the overshoot scenario

Jesse Nusbaumer, Katsumi Matsumoto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


The "overshoot scenario" is an emissions scenario in which CO2 concentration in the atmosphere temporarily exceeds some pre-defined, "dangerous" threshold (before being reduced to non-dangerous levels). Support for this idea comes from its potential to achieve a balance between the burdens of current and future generations in dealing with global warming. Before it can be considered a viable policy, the overshoot scenario needs to be examined in terms of its impacts on the global climate and the environment. In, particular, it must be determined if climate change cause by the overshoot scenario is reversible or not, since crossing that "dangerous" CO2 threshold could result in climate change from which we might not be able to recover. In this study, we quantify the change in several climatic and environmental variables under the overshoot scenario using a global climate model of intermediate complexity. Compared to earlier studies on the overshoot scenario, we have an explicit carbon cycle model that allows us to represent carbon-climate feedbacks and force the climate model more realistically with CO2 emissions rates rather than with prescribed atmospheric pCO2. Our standard CO2 emissions rate is calculated on the basis of historical atmospheric pCO2 data and the WRE S650 non-overshoot stabilization profile. It starts from the preindustrial year 1760, peaks in the year 2056, and ends in the year 2300. A variety of overshoot scenarios were constructed by increasing the amplitude of the control emissions peak but decreasing the peak duration so that the cumulative emissions remain essentially constant. Sensitivity simulations of various overshoot scenarios in our model show that many aspects of the global climate are largely reversible by year 2300. The significance of the reversibility, which takes roughly 200 years in our experiments, depends on the time horizon with which it is viewed or the number of future generations for whom equity is sought. At times when the overshoot scenario has emissions rates higher then the control scenario, the transient changes in atmospheric and oceanic temperatures and surface ocean pH can be significant, even for moderate overshoot scenarios that remain within IPCC SRES emissions scenarios. The large transient changes and the centennial timescale of climate reversibility suggest that the overshoot might not be the best mitigation approach, even if it technically follows the optimal economic path.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)164-172
Number of pages9
JournalGlobal and Planetary Change
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - May 2008

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
JN was supported by a summer REU internship program made possible by an NSF grant (EAR 0649044) to the University of Minnesota. This research was supported by the Office of Science (BER), U.S. Department of Energy grant (DE-FG02-06ER64216) to KM.


  • carbon cycle
  • climate change
  • numerical model
  • overshoot scenario

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