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All IPCC definitions taken from Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Working Group I Contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Annex I, Glossary, pp. 941-954. Cambridge University Press.

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Lifetime

Also: Turnover time, Atmospheric lifetime

Lifetime is a general term used for various time scales characterising the rate of processes affecting the concentration of trace gases. The following lifetimes may be distinguished:

Turnover time (T) (also called global atmospheric lifetime) is the ratio of the mass M of a reservoir (e.g., a gaseous compound in the atmosphere) and the total rate of removal S from the reservoir: T = M / S. For each removal process, separate turnover times can be defined. In soil carbon biology, this is referred to as Mean Residence Time.

Adjustment time or response time (Ta) is the time scale characterising the decay of an instantaneous pulse input into the reservoir. The term adjustment time is also used to characterise the adjustment of the mass of a reservoir following a step change in the source strength. Half-life or decay constant is used to quantify a first-order exponential decay process. See response time for a different definition pertinent to climate variations.

The term lifetime is sometimes used, for simplicity, as a surrogate for adjustment time.

In simple cases, where the global removal of the compound is directly proportional to the total mass of the reservoir, the adjustment time equals the turnover time: T = Ta. An example is CFC-11, which is removed from the atmosphere only by photochemical processes in the stratosphere. In more complicated cases, where several reservoirs are involved or where the removal is not proportional to the total mass, the equality T = Ta no longer holds. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an extreme example. Its turnover time is only about four years because of the rapid exchange between the atmosphere and the ocean and terrestrial biota. However, a large part of that CO2 is returned to the atmosphere within a few years. Thus, the adjustment time of CO2 in the atmosphere is actually determined by the rate of removal of carbon from the surface layer of the oceans into its deeper layers. Although an approximate value of 100 years may be given for the adjustment time of CO2 in the atmosphere, the actual adjustment is faster initially and slower later on. In the case of methane (CH4), the adjustment time is different from the turnover time because the removal is mainly through a chemical reaction with the hydroxyl radical OH, the concentration of which itself depends on the CH4 concentration. Therefore, the CH4 removal rate S is not proportional to its total mass M.

Definition courtesy of IPCC AR4.

All IPCC definitions taken from Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Working Group I Contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Annex I, Glossary, pp. 941-954. Cambridge University Press.



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