Journal cover Journal topic
Biogeosciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
Biogeosciences, 14, 3051-3066, 2017
© Author(s) 2017. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Research article
22 Jun 2017
Quantifying uncertainties of permafrost carbon–climate feedbacks
Eleanor J. Burke1, Altug Ekici2,3, Ye Huang4, Sarah E. Chadburn2,5, Chris Huntingford6, Philippe Ciais4, Pierre Friedlingstein2, Shushi Peng4,7, and Gerhard Krinner8 1Met Office Hadley Centre, FitzRoy Road, Exeter, EX1 3PB, UK
2University of Exeter, College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, Exeter, EX4 4QF, UK
3Uni Research Climate and Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, Bergen, Norway
4Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l'Environnement, UMR1572 – CEA-CNRS-UVSQ, 91191 Gif sur Yvette, France
5University of Leeds, School of Earth and Environment, Leeds, LS2 9JT, UK
6Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Wallingford, Oxfordshire, OX10 8BB, UK
7Sino-French Institute for Earth System Science, College of Urban and Environmental Sciences, Peking University, Beijing, 100871, China
8Laboratoire de Glaciologie et Géophysique de l'Environnement, 54 rue Molière, 38402 Saint Martin d'Hères, France
Abstract. The land surface models JULES (Joint UK Land Environment Simulator, two versions) and ORCHIDEE-MICT (Organizing Carbon and Hydrology in Dynamic Ecosystems), each with a revised representation of permafrost carbon, were coupled to the Integrated Model Of Global Effects of climatic aNomalies (IMOGEN) intermediate-complexity climate and ocean carbon uptake model. IMOGEN calculates atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) and local monthly surface climate for a given emission scenario with the land–atmosphere CO2 flux exchange from either JULES or ORCHIDEE-MICT. These simulations include feedbacks associated with permafrost carbon changes in a warming world. Both IMOGEN–JULES and IMOGEN–ORCHIDEE-MICT were forced by historical and three alternative future-CO2-emission scenarios. Those simulations were performed for different climate sensitivities and regional climate change patterns based on 22 different Earth system models (ESMs) used for CMIP3 (phase 3 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project), allowing us to explore climate uncertainties in the context of permafrost carbon–climate feedbacks. Three future emission scenarios consistent with three representative concentration pathways were used: RCP2.6, RCP4.5 and RCP8.5. Paired simulations with and without frozen carbon processes were required to quantify the impact of the permafrost carbon feedback on climate change. The additional warming from the permafrost carbon feedback is between 0.2 and 12 % of the change in the global mean temperature (ΔT) by the year 2100 and 0.5 and 17 % of ΔT by 2300, with these ranges reflecting differences in land surface models, climate models and emissions pathway. As a percentage of ΔT, the permafrost carbon feedback has a greater impact on the low-emissions scenario (RCP2.6) than on the higher-emissions scenarios, suggesting that permafrost carbon should be taken into account when evaluating scenarios of heavy mitigation and stabilization. Structural differences between the land surface models (particularly the representation of the soil carbon decomposition) are found to be a larger source of uncertainties than differences in the climate response. Inertia in the permafrost carbon system means that the permafrost carbon response depends on the temporal trajectory of warming as well as the absolute amount of warming. We propose a new policy-relevant metric – the frozen carbon residence time (FCRt) in years – that can be derived from these complex land surface models and used to quantify the permafrost carbon response given any pathway of global temperature change.

Citation: Burke, E. J., Ekici, A., Huang, Y., Chadburn, S. E., Huntingford, C., Ciais, P., Friedlingstein, P., Peng, S., and Krinner, G.: Quantifying uncertainties of permafrost carbon–climate feedbacks, Biogeosciences, 14, 3051-3066,, 2017.
Publications Copernicus
Short summary
There are large reserves of carbon within the permafrost which might be released to the atmosphere under global warming. Our models suggest this release may cause an additional global temperature increase of 0.005 to 0.2°C by the year 2100 and 0.01 to 0.34°C by the year 2300. Under climate mitigation scenarios this is between 1.5 and 9 % (by 2100) and between 6 and 16 % (by 2300) of the global mean temperature change. There is a large uncertainty associated with these results.
There are large reserves of carbon within the permafrost which might be released to the...