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Filed under: — group @ 28 November 2004 - (Français) (English)

Forcings in the climate sense are external boundary conditions or inputs to a climate model. Obviously changes to the sun’s radiation are external, and so that is always a forcing. The same is true for changes to the Earth’s orbit (“Milankovitch cycles”). Things get a little more ambigous as you get closer to the surface. In models that do not contain a carbon cycle (and that is most of them), the level of CO2 is set externally, and so that can be considered a forcing too. However, in models that contain a carbon cycle, changes in CO2 concentrations will occur as a function of the climate itself and in changes in emissions from industrial activity. In that case, CO2 levels will be a feedback, and not a forcing. Almost all of the elements that make up the atmosphere can be considered feedbacks on some timescale, and so defining the forcing is really a function of what feedbacks you allow in the model and for what purpose you are using it. A good discussion of recent forcings can be found in Hansen et al (2002) and in Schmidt et al (2004).

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