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Title: Uncertainty in the response of terrestrial carbon sink to environmental drivers undermines carbon-climate feedback predictions

Abstract

Terrestrial ecosystems play a vital role in regulating the accumulation of carbon (C) in the atmosphere. Understanding the factors controlling land C uptake is critical for reducing uncertainties in projections of future climate. The relative importance of changing climate, rising atmospheric CO2, and other factors, however, remains unclear despite decades of research. Here, we use an ensemble of land models to show that models disagree on the primary driver of cumulative C uptake for 85% of vegetated land area. Disagreement is largest in model sensitivity to rising atmospheric CO2 which shows almost twice the variability in cumulative land uptake since 1901 (1 s.d. of 212.8 PgC vs. 138.5 PgC, respectively). We find that variability in CO2 and temperature sensitivity is attributable, in part, to their compensatory effects on C uptake, whereby comparable estimates of C uptake can arise by invoking different sensitivities to key environmental conditions. Conversely, divergent estimates of C uptake can occur despite being based on the same environmental sensitivities. Together, these findings imply an important limitation to the predictability of C cycling and climate under unprecedented environmental conditions. We suggest that the carbon modeling community prioritize a probabilistic multi-model approach to generate more robust C cycle projections.

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Publication Date:
Research Org.:
Pacific Northwest National Lab. (PNNL), Richland, WA (United States)
Sponsoring Org.:
USDOE
OSTI Identifier:
1406701
Report Number(s):
PNNL-SA-127594
Journal ID: ISSN 2045-2322
DOE Contract Number:  
AC05-76RL01830
Resource Type:
Journal Article
Journal Name:
Scientific Reports
Additional Journal Information:
Journal Volume: 7; Journal Issue: 1; Journal ID: ISSN 2045-2322
Publisher:
Nature Publishing Group
Country of Publication:
United States
Language:
English

Citation Formats

Huntzinger, D. N., Michalak, A. M., Schwalm, C., Ciais, P., King, A. W., Fang, Y., Schaefer, K., Wei, Y., Cook, R. B., Fisher, J. B., Hayes, D., Huang, M., Ito, A., Jain, A. K., Lei, H., Lu, C., Maignan, F., Mao, J., Parazoo, N., Peng, S., Poulter, B., Ricciuto, D., Shi, X., Tian, H., Wang, W., Zeng, N., and Zhao, F. Uncertainty in the response of terrestrial carbon sink to environmental drivers undermines carbon-climate feedback predictions. United States: N. p., 2017. Web. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-03818-2.
Huntzinger, D. N., Michalak, A. M., Schwalm, C., Ciais, P., King, A. W., Fang, Y., Schaefer, K., Wei, Y., Cook, R. B., Fisher, J. B., Hayes, D., Huang, M., Ito, A., Jain, A. K., Lei, H., Lu, C., Maignan, F., Mao, J., Parazoo, N., Peng, S., Poulter, B., Ricciuto, D., Shi, X., Tian, H., Wang, W., Zeng, N., & Zhao, F. Uncertainty in the response of terrestrial carbon sink to environmental drivers undermines carbon-climate feedback predictions. United States. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-03818-2.
Huntzinger, D. N., Michalak, A. M., Schwalm, C., Ciais, P., King, A. W., Fang, Y., Schaefer, K., Wei, Y., Cook, R. B., Fisher, J. B., Hayes, D., Huang, M., Ito, A., Jain, A. K., Lei, H., Lu, C., Maignan, F., Mao, J., Parazoo, N., Peng, S., Poulter, B., Ricciuto, D., Shi, X., Tian, H., Wang, W., Zeng, N., and Zhao, F. Thu . "Uncertainty in the response of terrestrial carbon sink to environmental drivers undermines carbon-climate feedback predictions". United States. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-03818-2.
@article{osti_1406701,
title = {Uncertainty in the response of terrestrial carbon sink to environmental drivers undermines carbon-climate feedback predictions},
author = {Huntzinger, D. N. and Michalak, A. M. and Schwalm, C. and Ciais, P. and King, A. W. and Fang, Y. and Schaefer, K. and Wei, Y. and Cook, R. B. and Fisher, J. B. and Hayes, D. and Huang, M. and Ito, A. and Jain, A. K. and Lei, H. and Lu, C. and Maignan, F. and Mao, J. and Parazoo, N. and Peng, S. and Poulter, B. and Ricciuto, D. and Shi, X. and Tian, H. and Wang, W. and Zeng, N. and Zhao, F.},
abstractNote = {Terrestrial ecosystems play a vital role in regulating the accumulation of carbon (C) in the atmosphere. Understanding the factors controlling land C uptake is critical for reducing uncertainties in projections of future climate. The relative importance of changing climate, rising atmospheric CO2, and other factors, however, remains unclear despite decades of research. Here, we use an ensemble of land models to show that models disagree on the primary driver of cumulative C uptake for 85% of vegetated land area. Disagreement is largest in model sensitivity to rising atmospheric CO2 which shows almost twice the variability in cumulative land uptake since 1901 (1 s.d. of 212.8 PgC vs. 138.5 PgC, respectively). We find that variability in CO2 and temperature sensitivity is attributable, in part, to their compensatory effects on C uptake, whereby comparable estimates of C uptake can arise by invoking different sensitivities to key environmental conditions. Conversely, divergent estimates of C uptake can occur despite being based on the same environmental sensitivities. Together, these findings imply an important limitation to the predictability of C cycling and climate under unprecedented environmental conditions. We suggest that the carbon modeling community prioritize a probabilistic multi-model approach to generate more robust C cycle projections.},
doi = {10.1038/s41598-017-03818-2},
journal = {Scientific Reports},
issn = {2045-2322},
number = 1,
volume = 7,
place = {United States},
year = {2017},
month = {7}
}

Works referenced in this record:

Emergent constraints on climate-carbon cycle feedbacks in the CMIP5 Earth system models
journal, May 2014

  • Wenzel, Sabrina; Cox, Peter M.; Eyring, Veronika
  • Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, Vol. 119, Issue 5
  • DOI: 10.1002/2013jg002591

Bias in the attribution of forest carbon sinks
journal, September 2013

  • Erb, Karl-Heinz; Kastner, Thomas; Luyssaert, Sebastiaan
  • Nature Climate Change, Vol. 3, Issue 10
  • DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2004

Nitrogen deposition: how important is it for global terrestrial carbon uptake?
journal, January 2013


Uncertainty in weather and climate prediction
journal, December 2011

  • Slingo, Julia; Palmer, Tim
  • Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, Vol. 369, Issue 1956
  • DOI: 10.1098/rsta.2011.0161

Sensitivity of tropical carbon to climate change constrained by carbon dioxide variability
journal, February 2013

  • Cox, Peter M.; Pearson, David; Booth, Ben B.
  • Nature, Vol. 494, Issue 7437
  • DOI: 10.1038/nature11882

Feedbacks between deforestation, climate, and hydrology in the Southwestern Amazon: implications for the provision of ecosystem services
journal, December 2013

  • Lima, Letícia S.; Coe, Michael T.; Soares Filho, Britaldo S.
  • Landscape Ecology, Vol. 29, Issue 2
  • DOI: 10.1007/s10980-013-9962-1

Human-induced nitrogen–phosphorus imbalances alter natural and managed ecosystems across the globe
journal, December 2013

  • Peñuelas, Josep; Poulter, Benjamin; Sardans, Jordi
  • Nature Communications, Vol. 4, Issue 1
  • DOI: 10.1038/ncomms3934

Recent trends and drivers of regional sources and sinks of carbon dioxide
journal, January 2015


Terrestrial nitrogen–carbon cycle interactions at the global scale
journal, July 2013

  • Zaehle, S.
  • Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, Vol. 368, Issue 1621
  • DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2013.0125

Enhanced seasonal CO2 exchange caused by amplified plant productivity in northern ecosystems
journal, January 2016


Large divergence of satellite and Earth system model estimates of global terrestrial CO2 fertilization
journal, December 2015

  • Kolby Smith, W.; Reed, Sasha C.; Cleveland, Cory C.
  • Nature Climate Change, Vol. 6, Issue 3
  • DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2879

The North American Carbon Program Multi-Scale Synthesis and Terrestrial Model Intercomparison Project – Part 1: Overview and experimental design
journal, January 2013

  • Huntzinger, D. N.; Schwalm, C.; Michalak, A. M.
  • Geoscientific Model Development, Vol. 6, Issue 6
  • DOI: 10.5194/gmd-6-2121-2013

Carbon–nitrogen interactions on land at global scales: current understanding in modelling climate biosphere feedbacks
journal, October 2011


Global carbon budget 2014
journal, January 2015

  • Le Quéré, C.; Moriarty, R.; Andrew, R. M.
  • Earth System Science Data, Vol. 7, Issue 1
  • DOI: 10.5194/essd-7-47-2015

Trends in the sources and sinks of carbon dioxide
journal, November 2009

  • Le Quéré, Corinne; Raupach, Michael R.; Canadell, Josep G.
  • Nature Geoscience, Vol. 2, Issue 12
  • DOI: 10.1038/ngeo689

Increase in observed net carbon dioxide uptake by land and oceans during the past 50 years
journal, August 2012

  • Ballantyne, A. P.; Alden, C. B.; Miller, J. B.
  • Nature, Vol. 488, Issue 7409
  • DOI: 10.1038/nature11299

Tipping elements in the Earth's climate system
journal, February 2008

  • Lenton, T. M.; Held, H.; Kriegler, E.
  • Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 105, Issue 6
  • DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0705414105

Land use change and nitrogen feedbacks constrain the trajectory of the land carbon sink
journal, October 2013

  • Gerber, Stefan; Hedin, Lars O.; Keel, Sonja G.
  • Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 40, Issue 19
  • DOI: 10.1002/grl.50957

Drivers and patterns of land biosphere carbon balance reversal
journal, March 2016


Reduction in carbon uptake during turn of the century drought in western North America
journal, July 2012

  • Schwalm, Christopher R.; Williams, Christopher A.; Schaefer, Kevin
  • Nature Geoscience, Vol. 5, Issue 8
  • DOI: 10.1038/ngeo1529

Future productivity and carbon storage limited by terrestrial nutrient availability
journal, April 2015

  • Wieder, William R.; Cleveland, Cory C.; Smith, W. Kolby
  • Nature Geoscience, Vol. 8, Issue 6
  • DOI: 10.1038/ngeo2413

Modeling the Terrestrial Biosphere
journal, October 2014


The North American Carbon Program Multi-scale Synthesis and Terrestrial Model Intercomparison Project – Part 2: Environmental driver data
journal, January 2014

  • Wei, Y.; Liu, S.; Huntzinger, D. N.
  • Geoscientific Model Development, Vol. 7, Issue 6
  • DOI: 10.5194/gmd-7-2875-2014

    Works referencing / citing this record:

    Emergent constraints on climate-carbon cycle feedbacks in the CMIP5 Earth system models
    journal, May 2014

    • Wenzel, Sabrina; Cox, Peter M.; Eyring, Veronika
    • Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, Vol. 119, Issue 5
    • DOI: 10.1002/2013jg002591

    Land use change and nitrogen feedbacks constrain the trajectory of the land carbon sink
    journal, October 2013

    • Gerber, Stefan; Hedin, Lars O.; Keel, Sonja G.
    • Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 40, Issue 19
    • DOI: 10.1002/grl.50957

    Feedbacks between deforestation, climate, and hydrology in the Southwestern Amazon: implications for the provision of ecosystem services
    journal, December 2013

    • Lima, Letícia S.; Coe, Michael T.; Soares Filho, Britaldo S.
    • Landscape Ecology, Vol. 29, Issue 2
    • DOI: 10.1007/s10980-013-9962-1

    Interactions Between Land-Use Change and Climate-Carbon Cycle Feedbacks
    journal, April 2018


    Carbon–nitrogen interactions on land at global scales: current understanding in modelling climate biosphere feedbacks
    journal, October 2011


    Increase in observed net carbon dioxide uptake by land and oceans during the past 50 years
    journal, August 2012

    • Ballantyne, A. P.; Alden, C. B.; Miller, J. B.
    • Nature, Vol. 488, Issue 7409
    • DOI: 10.1038/nature11299

    Sensitivity of tropical carbon to climate change constrained by carbon dioxide variability
    journal, February 2013

    • Cox, Peter M.; Pearson, David; Booth, Ben B.
    • Nature, Vol. 494, Issue 7437
    • DOI: 10.1038/nature11882

    Bias in the attribution of forest carbon sinks
    journal, September 2013

    • Erb, Karl-Heinz; Kastner, Thomas; Luyssaert, Sebastiaan
    • Nature Climate Change, Vol. 3, Issue 10
    • DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2004

    Large divergence of satellite and Earth system model estimates of global terrestrial CO2 fertilization
    journal, December 2015

    • Kolby Smith, W.; Reed, Sasha C.; Cleveland, Cory C.
    • Nature Climate Change, Vol. 6, Issue 3
    • DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2879

    Human-induced nitrogen–phosphorus imbalances alter natural and managed ecosystems across the globe
    journal, December 2013

    • Peñuelas, Josep; Poulter, Benjamin; Sardans, Jordi
    • Nature Communications, Vol. 4, Issue 1
    • DOI: 10.1038/ncomms3934

    Reduction in carbon uptake during turn of the century drought in western North America
    journal, July 2012

    • Schwalm, Christopher R.; Williams, Christopher A.; Schaefer, Kevin
    • Nature Geoscience, Vol. 5, Issue 8
    • DOI: 10.1038/ngeo1529

    Future productivity and carbon storage limited by terrestrial nutrient availability
    journal, April 2015

    • Wieder, William R.; Cleveland, Cory C.; Smith, W. Kolby
    • Nature Geoscience, Vol. 8, Issue 6
    • DOI: 10.1038/ngeo2413

    Trends in the sources and sinks of carbon dioxide
    journal, November 2009

    • Le Quéré, Corinne; Raupach, Michael R.; Canadell, Josep G.
    • Nature Geoscience, Vol. 2, Issue 12
    • DOI: 10.1038/ngeo689

    Tipping elements in the Earth's climate system
    journal, February 2008

    • Lenton, T. M.; Held, H.; Kriegler, E.
    • Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 105, Issue 6
    • DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0705414105

    Drivers and patterns of land biosphere carbon balance reversal
    journal, March 2016


    Uncertainty in weather and climate prediction
    journal, December 2011

    • Slingo, Julia; Palmer, Tim
    • Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, Vol. 369, Issue 1956
    • DOI: 10.1098/rsta.2011.0161

    Terrestrial nitrogen–carbon cycle interactions at the global scale
    journal, July 2013

    • Zaehle, S.
    • Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, Vol. 368, Issue 1621
    • DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2013.0125

    Enhanced seasonal CO2 exchange caused by amplified plant productivity in northern ecosystems
    journal, January 2016


    Modeling the Terrestrial Biosphere
    journal, October 2014


    Nitrogen deposition: how important is it for global terrestrial carbon uptake?
    journal, January 2013


    Recent trends and drivers of regional sources and sinks of carbon dioxide
    journal, January 2015


    Global carbon budget 2014
    journal, January 2015

    • Le Quéré, C.; Moriarty, R.; Andrew, R. M.
    • Earth System Science Data, Vol. 7, Issue 1
    • DOI: 10.5194/essd-7-47-2015

    The North American Carbon Program Multi-Scale Synthesis and Terrestrial Model Intercomparison Project – Part 1: Overview and experimental design
    journal, January 2013

    • Huntzinger, D. N.; Schwalm, C.; Michalak, A. M.
    • Geoscientific Model Development, Vol. 6, Issue 6
    • DOI: 10.5194/gmd-6-2121-2013

    The North American Carbon Program Multi-scale Synthesis and Terrestrial Model Intercomparison Project – Part 2: Environmental driver data
    journal, January 2014

    • Wei, Y.; Liu, S.; Huntzinger, D. N.
    • Geoscientific Model Development, Vol. 7, Issue 6
    • DOI: 10.5194/gmd-7-2875-2014