Constraints on long-term carbon-climate feedbacks from spatially resolved CO2 growth rate fluctuations linked to temperature and precipitation

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Gretchen Keppel-Aleks, University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI, United States and Forrest M Hoffman, University of California Irvine, Department of Earth System Science, Irvine, CA, United States
Feedbacks between the global carbon cycle and climate represent one of the largest uncertainties in climate prediction. A promising method for reducing uncertainty in predictions of carbon-climate feedbacks is based on identifying an “emergent constraint" that leverages correlations between mechanistically linked long-term feedbacks and short-term variations within the model ensemble. By applying contemporary observations to evaluate model skill in simulating short-term variations, we may be able to better assess the probability of simulated long-term feedbacks.

We probed the constraint on long-term terrestrial carbon stocks provided by climate-driven fluctuations in the atmospheric CO2 growth rate at contemporary timescales. We considered the impact of both temperature and precipitation anomalies on terrestrial ecosystem exchange and further separated the direct influence of fire where possible. When we explicitly considered the role of atmospheric transport in smoothing the imprint of climate-driven flux anomalies on atmospheric CO2 patterns, we found that the extent of temporal averaging of both the observations and ESM output leads to estimates for the long-term climate sensitivity of tropical land carbon storage that are different by a factor of two.

In the context of these results, we discuss strategies for applying emergent constraints for benchmarking biogeochemical feedbacks in ESMs. Specifically, our results underscore the importance of selecting appropriate observational benchmarks and, for future model intercomparison projects, outputting fields that most closely correspond to available observational datasets.