Journal cover Journal topic
Biogeosciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
Biogeosciences, 7, 1645-1656, 2010
© Author(s) 2010. This work is distributed
under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
20 May 2010
Can we trust empirical marine DMS parameterisations within projections of future climate?
P. R. Halloran1, T. G. Bell2, and I. J. Totterdell1 1Met Office Hadley Centre, FitzRoy Road, Exeter, Devon, EX1 3PB, UK
2University of East Anglia, Norwich, NR4 7TJ, UK
Abstract. Dimethylsulphide (DMS) is a globally important aerosol precurser. In 1987 Charlson and others proposed that an increase in DMS production by certain phytoplankton species in response to a warming climate could stimulate increased aerosol formation, increasing the lower-atmosphere's albedo, and promoting cooling. Despite two decades of research, the global significance of this negative climate feedback remains contentious. It is therefore imperative that schemes are developed and tested, which allow for the realistic incorporation of phytoplankton DMS production into Earth System models. Using these models we can investigate the DMS-climate feedback and reduce uncertainty surrounding projections of future climate. Here we examine two empirical DMS parameterisations within the context of an Earth System model and find them to perform marginally better than the standard DMS climatology at predicting observations from an independent global dataset. We then question whether parameterisations based on our present understanding of DMS production by phytoplankton, and simple enough to incorporate into global climate models, can be shown to enhance the future predictive capacity of those models. This is an important question to ask now, as results from increasingly complex Earth System models lead us into the 5th assessment of climate science by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Comparing observed and predicted inter-annual variability, we suggest that future climate projections may underestimate the magnitude of surface ocean DMS change. Unfortunately this conclusion relies on a relatively small dataset, in which observed inter-annual variability may be exaggerated by biases in sample collection. We therefore encourage the observational community to make repeat measurements of sea-surface DMS concentrations an important focus, and highlight areas of apparent high inter-annual variability where sampling might be carried out. Finally, we assess future projections from two similarly valid empirical DMS schemes, and demonstrate contrasting results. We therefore conclude that the use of empirical DMS parameterisations within simulations of future climate should be undertaken only with careful appreciation of the caveats discussed.

Citation: Halloran, P. R., Bell, T. G., and Totterdell, I. J.: Can we trust empirical marine DMS parameterisations within projections of future climate?, Biogeosciences, 7, 1645-1656, doi:10.5194/bg-7-1645-2010, 2010.
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