Impacts of drought on regional carbon uptake dynamics in the Southwestern US, using the New Mexico Elevation Gradient of flux towers and the Temperature-Greenness model.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Daniel J Krofcheck, Christopher Lippitt and Marcy E Litvak, University of New Mexico Main Campus, Albuquerque, NM, United States
Semi-arid regions store approximately 568 Gt of carbon, roughly 18% of the global carbon reserves. Drought remains one of the largest sources of climatic stress in semi-arid regions globally. The impacts of these expansive, severe droughts on terrestrial productivity can be substantial and difficult to quantify spatially. The semi-arid Southwestern US suffered an expansive drought in 2011 which precipitated significant decline in ecosystem function and woody mortality across the region. We used the New Mexico Elevation Gradient (NMEG) cluster of flux towers, which provided in-situ measures of carbon flux via eddy-covariance to estimate the decreases in gross primary production across six dominant vegetation types in the region. Relative to a wet year, the largest decrease in cumulative carbon uptake we measured was 60% (a reduction of 200 g C /m2 annually) at the ponderosa pine site. The pattern of decreased carbon sequestration was consistent across the gradient, with the C4 grasslands shifting from carbon neutral to a source of 50 g C / m2 in response to the drought and desert shrublands sink strength reduced by 100%, (~50 g C /m2 annually). Juniper savannas, PJ woodlands, and mixed conifer subalpine woodlands all showed a decrease in carbon sequestration of roughly 100 g C /m2 annually. Rough scaling of these results suggest this drought could have resulted in a reduction of carbon uptake of 20 Tg C in NM alone. To more realistically estimate the decrease in carbon sequestration due to drought, we used results from the NMEG to parameterize the Temperature-Greenness model, a remote sensing based approach to scale these estimates to the region, focusing on the six dominant vegetation types represented by the NMEG (accounts for 60% of total land area in NM). This model is driven by 16-day averages of MODIS land surface temperature and the enhanced vegetation index. We used the Southwest Regional GAP analysis classification data to bin NM landcover into representative classes to most closely match the vegetation types measured by the NMEG. Given the spatial variability in vegetation structure and function within biomes, this approach provides more robust estimates of statewide carbon uptake patterns. We discuss these results in the context of recent droughts, future climate projections, and previous regional modeling results.