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GREENCYCLES Biogeochemistry and Climate Change Research and Training Network

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Reseach Goal

Human activity is believed to be having profound effects on the global environment through inadvertent changes in the atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. It is almost certain that these effects are already altering global climate patterns and will have major impacts on the future well-being of life on Earth. However, our understanding of these changes remains inadequate to predict with confidence the evolution of the Earth system over the rest of this century and beyond.

Starting around the time of the European Industrial Revolution, the atmospheric concentrations of many important greenhouse gases have risen substantially. Over the same period, observations indicate that the global average land surface air temperature has risen by about 0.8°C. CO2, the most important anthropogenic greenhouse gas in terms of climate forcing, has increased in concentration by approximately 30% over this period. Human-induced changes in the concentrations of methane, CFCs, N2O, and tropospheric ozone have also significantly increased radiative climate forcing. Changes in some other anthropogenic forcings are thought to have had net cooling effects, including stratospheric ozone, tropospheric aerosols, forced cloud changes (mainly through the indirect aerosol effect), and alterations in land surface properties by, for example, deforestation. While the climate forcings of greenhouse gases are relatively easy to measure, and the likely effects of forcings on climate are becoming clearer through the use of global climate models, key uncertainties have now shifted to controls on the growth rates of greenhouse gases, the role of non-greenhouse gas forcings such as land cover change, and the impacts of climate change on ocean and land ecosystems.

To make reliable predictions of the future evolution of the Earth state over the next several decades it is necessary to build understanding of the controls on fluxes of greenhouse gases into coupled global climate-biogeochemical models. Monitoring of the these fluxes is already a priority, but the understanding of these observations in terms of underlying processes, and their conceptualisation in global models, remains a significant obstacle to progress. GREENCYCLES aims to significantly reduce uncertainties in climate-biogeochemical interactions through the promotion of cross-disciplinary training and research, and thereby provide policy makers with sound scientific advice for assessing the effectiveness of policy options for dealing with long-term climate change.

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