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      Contribution of semi-arid ecosystems to interannual variability of the global carbon cycle

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          Abstract

          The land and ocean act as a sink for fossil-fuel emissions, thereby slowing the rise of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. Although the uptake of carbon by oceanic and terrestrial processes has kept pace with accelerating carbon dioxide emissions until now, atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations exhibit a large variability on interannual timescales, considered to be driven primarily by terrestrial ecosystem processes dominated by tropical rainforests. We use a terrestrial biogeochemical model, atmospheric carbon dioxide inversion and global carbon budget accounting methods to investigate the evolution of the terrestrial carbon sink over the past 30 years, with a focus on the underlying mechanisms responsible for the exceptionally large land carbon sink reported in 2011 (ref. 2). Here we show that our three terrestrial carbon sink estimates are in good agreement and support the finding of a 2011 record land carbon sink. Surprisingly, we find that the global carbon sink anomaly was driven by growth of semi-arid vegetation in the Southern Hemisphere, with almost 60 per cent of carbon uptake attributed to Australian ecosystems, where prevalent La Niña conditions caused up to six consecutive seasons of increased precipitation. In addition, since 1981, a six per cent expansion of vegetation cover over Australia was associated with a fourfold increase in the sensitivity of continental net carbon uptake to precipitation. Our findings suggest that the higher turnover rates of carbon pools in semi-arid biomes are an increasingly important driver of global carbon cycle inter-annual variability and that tropical rainforests may become less relevant drivers in the future. More research is needed to identify to what extent the carbon stocks accumulated during wet years are vulnerable to rapid decomposition or loss through fire in subsequent years.

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          Most cited references 39

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          An Overview of CMIP5 and the Experiment Design

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            NCEP–DOE AMIP-II Reanalysis (R-2)

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              The next generation of scenarios for climate change research and assessment.

              Advances in the science and observation of climate change are providing a clearer understanding of the inherent variability of Earth's climate system and its likely response to human and natural influences. The implications of climate change for the environment and society will depend not only on the response of the Earth system to changes in radiative forcings, but also on how humankind responds through changes in technology, economies, lifestyle and policy. Extensive uncertainties exist in future forcings of and responses to climate change, necessitating the use of scenarios of the future to explore the potential consequences of different response options. To date, such scenarios have not adequately examined crucial possibilities, such as climate change mitigation and adaptation, and have relied on research processes that slowed the exchange of information among physical, biological and social scientists. Here we describe a new process for creating plausible scenarios to investigate some of the most challenging and important questions about climate change confronting the global community.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Nature
                Nature
                Springer Science and Business Media LLC
                0028-0836
                1476-4687
                May 2014
                May 21 2014
                May 2014
                : 509
                : 7502
                : 600-603
                10.1038/nature13376
                24847888
                © 2014

                http://www.springer.com/tdm

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