Journal cover Journal topic
Biogeosciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
Biogeosciences, 11, 2341-2356, 2014
© Author(s) 2014. This work is distributed
under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Research article
25 Apr 2014
Changes in soil organic carbon storage predicted by Earth system models during the 21st century
K. E. O. Todd-Brown1, J. T. Randerson1, F. Hopkins1, V. Arora2, T. Hajima3, C. Jones4, E. Shevliakova5, J. Tjiputra6, E. Volodin7, T. Wu8, Q. Zhang9, and S. D. Allison1,10 1Department of Earth System Science, University of California, Irvine, California, USA
2Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis, Environment Canada, University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
3Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, Yokohama, Japan
4Met Office Hadley Centre, Exeter, UK
5Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey, USA
6Uni Climate, Uni Research AS and Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, Bergen, Norway
7Institute of Numerical Mathematics, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia
8Beijing Climate Center, China Meteorological Administration, Beijing, China
9College for Global Change and Earth System Science, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China
10Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department, University of California, Irvine, California, USA
Abstract. Soil is currently thought to be a sink for carbon; however, the response of this sink to increasing levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and climate change is uncertain. In this study, we analyzed soil organic carbon (SOC) changes from 11 Earth system models (ESMs) contributing simulations to the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5). We used a reduced complexity model based on temperature and moisture sensitivities to analyze the drivers of SOC change for the historical and high radiative forcing (RCP 8.5) scenarios between 1850 and 2100. ESM estimates of SOC changed over the 21st century (2090–2099 minus 1997–2006) ranging from a loss of 72 Pg C to a gain of 253 Pg C with a multi-model mean gain of 65 Pg C. Many ESMs simulated large changes in high-latitude SOC that ranged from losses of 37 Pg C to gains of 146 Pg C with a multi-model mean gain of 39 Pg C across tundra and boreal biomes. All ESMs showed cumulative increases in global NPP (11 to 59%) and decreases in SOC turnover times (15 to 28%) over the 21st century. Most of the model-to-model variation in SOC change was explained by initial SOC stocks combined with the relative changes in soil inputs and decomposition rates (R2 = 0.89, p < 0.01). Between models, increases in decomposition rate were well explained by a combination of initial decomposition rate, ESM-specific Q10-factors, and changes in soil temperature (R2 = 0.80, p < 0.01). All SOC changes depended on sustained increases in NPP with global change (primarily driven by increasing CO2). Many ESMs simulated large accumulations of SOC in high-latitude biomes that are not consistent with empirical studies. Most ESMs poorly represented permafrost dynamics and omitted potential constraints on SOC storage, such as priming effects, nutrient availability, mineral surface stabilization, and aggregate formation. Future models that represent these constraints are likely to estimate smaller increases in SOC storage over the 21st century.

Citation: Todd-Brown, K. E. O., Randerson, J. T., Hopkins, F., Arora, V., Hajima, T., Jones, C., Shevliakova, E., Tjiputra, J., Volodin, E., Wu, T., Zhang, Q., and Allison, S. D.: Changes in soil organic carbon storage predicted by Earth system models during the 21st century, Biogeosciences, 11, 2341-2356, doi:10.5194/bg-11-2341-2014, 2014.
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