So, imagine a new technology were introduced that was incredibly efficient at carbon sequestration, lets say removal of ~90% of carbon in processed air and processing 10 tons of gas per minute (these numbers can be fudged, the basic gist is extreme carbon sequestration that would be visible on a global scale in a very short order of time, like, less than a decade or so).

Earth is warming, and it's obvious in our longer spring/fall seasons and shorter winters. If we were to quickly remove atmospheric CO2 using the above mcguffin, would the seasons revert to pre-industrial levels relatively quickly, or would earth have trapped a significant amount of solar energy that would need to radiate away before we began to see normal seasons?


The issue of the lag time between carbon addition to the atmosphere and maximum warming that results from it, is probably pretty divisive. I had previously heard estimates around 50 years, but the most recent work I could find (that was available for free) indicates that 10 years is about right, with Figure 1 of the linked paper being the best graphical evidence. This 10 year response is for a one-off injection of carbon, so we can't assume it would work the same for a one-off removal of carbon, but we can go with that number for now.

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So, looking at Figure 1, if we started rapidly removing carbon from the atmopshere, the temperatures should reflect within a year or two, and if we removed ALL of the anthropogenic delta-CO$_2$, we could expect temperatures to go back to pre-industrial revolution plus or minus any natural changes since then in about 10 years.

A side note: supposing we could sequester as much carbon as we put into the atmosphere every year. That would be great! But how much energy would it take to sequester that carbon? And where would we get the energy to sequester the carbon. Sequestration seems like a great idea, but I don't think it would work, even if an excellent method of sequestration could be found, until the world's energy demands are met from non-fossil fuel sources.

  • $\begingroup$ I definitely agree with your side note, but it's an interesting idea to think about. :( $\endgroup$ – Sidney Oct 24 '16 at 20:36
  • $\begingroup$ Well, there are estimates for how much energy it would cost to separate the CO2 out of the exhaust of coal-burning power plants, and it is 20-30% of the energy produced. In other words, a coal-burning power plant would have 70-80% of its (quite sizable) power generation capacity available to remove CO2 from the general atmosphere. It's just a question of how much money you're willing to devote to the effort. $\endgroup$ – Wolfgang Bangerth Oct 26 '16 at 19:30

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