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The University of Southampton

Inaugural Lecture Event

Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton
22 September 2016
Henry Charnock Lecture Theatre NOCS Waterfront Campus European Way Southampton SO14 3ZH

For more information regarding this event, please email .

Event details

You are cordially invited to the Inaugural Lecture of Professor Gavin Foster, Professor of Isotope Geochemistry.

'What can we learn about our warming future from the climate of the past?'

Chaired by: Professor Damon Teagle


Since the industrial revolution over 150 years ago, humanity has emitted nearly 600 Gt of carbon dioxide (CO2) – a potent greenhouse gas. As a consequence, the average temperature of the Earth has increased by around 1oC and the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by >40% recently exceeding 400 ppm. How hot our future will be depends on two factors: (i) how much CO2 humanity will emit in years to come, and (ii) how sensitive the Earth’s climate system is to changes in the strength of the greenhouse effect. While the former is difficult to predict and will be determined by political and societal will, the latter is a measurable quantity commonly expressed in terms of “climate sensitivity”. To determine the magnitude of climate sensitivity we have to rely largely on numerical climate models that attempt to encapsulate our state-of-the-art understanding of the climate system. How accurately these complex models describe our warm future climate is very difficult to test, and differences in sensitivity between models predominantly dictates the level uncertainty in predictions of our warm future. This not only means we don’t have a good handle on how warm the climate will be in 25,50 or 100 years from now, but also that the level of positive action needed to keep within climate targets (e.g. 2oC) is unclear.

Earth’s climate has constantly changed over geological time, albeit at a rate typically over an order of magnitude slower than anthropogenic climate change. In this lecture I will review the recent efforts of my group to use the geological record of natural climate change to better constrain Earth’s climate sensitivity. I will demonstrate that the climate of the past responds to CO2 change just as we might predict given its radiative properties and our understanding of the modern climate system. I will also highlight future research directions that include using the geological past to examine how climate sensitivity might vary as a function of background climate state.


Tea and coffee will be served in the exhibition area at 5pm. Drinks and buffet reception will be held after the lecture.

To find out more about Professor Gavin Foster please visit his online profile here

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