Carbon is forever is the title of this article on our recommended reading list:
This phrase is also a shorthand for an important fact: a substantial fraction of the carbon dioxide we put into the atmosphere will stay there for hundreds or thousands of years! Once carbon dioxide is put into the atmosphere, about 50% of it will stay there for decades. About 30% of it will stay there for centuries. And about 20% will stay there for thousands of years, as shown in this graph from Global Warming Art
The above graph was based on:
The “Carbon is forever” paper is based largely on these more recent calculations:
For climate implications, see:
Susan Solomon, Gian-Kasper Plattner, Reto Knutti and Pierre Friedlingstein, Irreversible climate change due to carbon dioxide emissions, PNAS 106 (2009), 1704-1709.
M. Eby, K. Zickfeld, A. Montenegro, D. Archer, K. J. Meissner and A. J. Weaver, Lifetime of anthropogenic climate change: millennial time scales of potential CO2 and surface temperature perturbations, Journal of Climate 22 (2009), 2501-2511.
Long Cao and Ken Caldeira, Atmospheric carbon dioxide removal: long-term consequences and commitment, Environmental Research Letters 5 (2010), 024011.
For the very long term perspective (how CO2 may affect the glacial-interglacial cycle over geologic time), see:
For how processes at very different time scales affect the uptake of carbon from the Earth’s atmosphere, see: