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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.

Authors:
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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
Resource Relation:
Journal Name: Scientific Reports; Journal Volume: 7; Journal Issue: 1
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},
number = 1,
volume = 7,
place = {United States},
year = {Thu Jul 06 00:00:00 EDT 2017},
month = {Thu Jul 06 00:00:00 EDT 2017}
}
  • 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 CO 2, 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 CO 2 which shows almost twice the variability in cumulative landmore » uptake since 1901 (1 s.d. of 212.8 PgC vs. 138.5 PgC, respectively). We find that variability in CO 2 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.« less
  • Our aim is to investigate how ecosystem water-use efficiency (WUE) varies spatially under different climate conditions, and how spatial variations in WUE differ from those of transpiration-based water-use efficiency (WUE t) and transpiration-based inherent water-use efficiency (IWUE t). LocationGlobal terrestrial ecosystems. We investigated spatial patterns of WUE using two datasets of gross primary productivity (GPP) and evapotranspiration (ET) and four biosphere model estimates of GPP and ET. Spatial relationships between WUE and climate variables were further explored through regression analyses. Global WUE estimated by two satellite-based datasets is 1.9 ± 0.1 and 1.8 ± 0.6g C m -2mm -1 lowermore » than the simulations from four process-based models (2.0 ± 0.3g C m -2mm -1) but comparable within the uncertainty of both approaches. In both satellite-based datasets and process models, precipitation is more strongly associated with spatial gradients of WUE for temperate and tropical regions, but temperature dominates north of 50 degrees N. WUE also increases with increasing solar radiation at high latitudes. The values of WUE from datasets and process-based models are systematically higher in wet regions (with higher GPP) than in dry regions. WUE t shows a lower precipitation sensitivity than WUE, which is contrary to leaf- and plant-level observations. IWUE t, the product of WUE t and water vapour deficit, is found to be rather conservative with spatially increasing precipitation, in agreement with leaf- and plant-level measurements. In conclusion, WUE, WUE t and IWUE t produce different spatial relationships with climate variables. In dry ecosystems, water losses from evaporation from bare soil, uncorrelated with productivity, tend to make WUE lower than in wetter regions. Yet canopy conductance is intrinsically efficient in those ecosystems and maintains a higher IWUEt. This suggests that the responses of each component flux of evapotranspiration should be analysed separately when investigating regional gradients in WUE, its temporal variability and its trends.« less
  • Nitrogen cycle dynamics have the capacity to attenuate the magnitude of global terrestrial carbon sinks and sources driven by CO2 fertilization and changes in climate. In this study, two versions of the terrestrial carbon and nitrogen cycle components of the Integrated Science Assessment Model (ISAM) are used to evaluate how variation in nitrogen availability influences terrestrial carbon sinks and sources in response to changes over the 20th century in global environmental factors including atmospheric CO2 concentration, nitrogen inputs, temperature, precipitation and land use. The two versions of ISAM vary in their treatment of nitrogen availability: ISAM-NC has a terrestrial carbonmore » cycle model coupled to a fully dynamic nitrogen cycle while ISAM-C has an identical carbon cycle model but nitrogen availability is always in sufficient supply. Overall, the two versions of the model estimate approximately the same amount of global mean carbon uptake over the 20th century. However, comparisons of results of ISAM-NC relative to ISAM-C reveal that nitrogen dynamics: (1) reduced the 1990s carbon sink associated with increasing atmospheric CO2 by 0.53 PgC yr1 (1 Pg = 1015g), (2) reduced the 1990s carbon source associated with changes in temperature and precipitation of 0.34 PgC yr1 in the 1990s, (3) an enhanced sink associated with nitrogen inputs by 0.26 PgC yr1, and (4) enhanced the 1990s carbon source associated with changes in land use by 0.08 PgC yr1 in the 1990s. These effects of nitrogen limitation influenced the spatial distribution of the estimated exchange of CO2 with greater sink activity in high latitudes associated with climate effects and a smaller sink of CO2 in the southeastern United States caused by N limitation associated with both CO2 fertilization and forest regrowth. These results indicate that the dynamics of nitrogen availability are important to consider in assessing the spatial distribution and temporal dynamics of terrestrial carbon sources and sinks.« less