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Biogeosciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
Biogeosciences, 13, 1597-1607, 2016
https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-13-1597-2016
© Author(s) 2016. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Research article
15 Mar 2016
Climate-driven shifts in continental net primary production implicated as a driver of a recent abrupt increase in the land carbon sink
Wolfgang Buermann1, Claudie Beaulieu2, Bikash Parida3, David Medvigy4, George J. Collatz5, Justin Sheffield6, and Jorge L. Sarmiento4 1Institute for Climate and Atmospheric Science, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK
2Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton, University of Southampton, Southampton SO14 3ZH, UK
3Civil Engineering Department, Shiv Nadar University, Dadri, 203207 UP, India
4Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences Program, Princeton University, 08540 Princeton, New Jersey, USA
5National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Goddard Space Flight Center, 20771 Greenbelt, Maryland, USA
6Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Princeton University, 08540 Princeton, New Jersey, USA
Abstract. The world's ocean and land ecosystems act as sinks for anthropogenic CO2, and over the last half century their combined sink strength grew steadily with increasing CO2 emissions. Recent analyses of the global carbon budget, however, have uncovered an abrupt, substantial ( ∼  1 PgC yr−1) and sustained increase in the land sink in the late 1980s whose origin remains unclear. In the absence of this prominent shift in the land sink, increases in atmospheric CO2 concentrations since the late 1980s would have been  ∼  30 % larger than observed (or  ∼  12 ppm above current levels). Global data analyses are limited in regards to attributing causes to changes in the land sink because different regions are likely responding to different drivers. Here, we address this challenge by using terrestrial biosphere models constrained by observations to determine if there is independent evidence for the abrupt strengthening of the land sink. We find that net primary production significantly increased in the late 1980s (more so than heterotrophic respiration), consistent with the inferred increase in the global land sink, and that large-scale climate anomalies are responsible for this shift. We identify two key regions in which climatic constraints on plant growth have eased: northern Eurasia experienced warming, and northern Africa received increased precipitation. Whether these changes in continental climates are connected is uncertain, but North Atlantic climate variability is important. Our findings suggest that improved understanding of climate variability in the North Atlantic may be essential for more credible projections of the land sink under climate change.

Citation: Buermann, W., Beaulieu, C., Parida, B., Medvigy, D., Collatz, G. J., Sheffield, J., and Sarmiento, J. L.: Climate-driven shifts in continental net primary production implicated as a driver of a recent abrupt increase in the land carbon sink, Biogeosciences, 13, 1597-1607, https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-13-1597-2016, 2016.
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Short summary
Recent analyses of the global carbon budget found a substantial increase in the land sink in the late 1980s whose origin remains unknown. Consistent with this shift, we find that plant growth increased in the late 1980s especially in Eurasia and northern Africa. There, climatic constraints on plant growth have eased possibly due to linked climate modes in the North Atlantic. Better understanding of North Atlantic climate may be essential for more credible projections of the land carbon sink.
Recent analyses of the global carbon budget found a substantial increase in the land sink in the...
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