Importance of vegetation distribution for future carbon balance

Thursday, 17 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
Anders Ahlström, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, United States
Projections of future terrestrial carbon uptake vary greatly between simulations. Net primary production (NPP), wild fires, vegetation dynamics (including biome shifts) and soil decomposition constitute the main processes governing the response of the terrestrial carbon cycle in a changing climate. While primary production and soil respiration are relatively well studied and implemented in all global ecosystem models used to project the future land sink of CO2, vegetation dynamics are less studied and not always represented in global models. Here we used a detailed second generation dynamic global vegetation model with advanced representation of vegetation growth and mortality and the associated turnover and proven skill in predicting vegetation distribution and succession. We apply an emulator that describes the carbon flows and pools exactly as in simulations with the full model. The emulator simulates ecosystem dynamics in response to 13 different climate or Earth system model simulations from the CMIP5 ensemble under RCP8.5 radiative forcing at year 2085. We exchanged carbon cycle processes between these 13 simulations and investigate the changes predicted by the emulator. This method allowed us to partition the entire ensemble carbon uptake uncertainty into individual processes. We found that NPP, vegetation dynamics (including biome shifts, wild fires and mortality) and soil decomposition rates explained 49%, 17% and 33% respectively of uncertainties in modeled global C-uptake. Uncertainty due to vegetation dynamics was further partitioned into stand-clearing disturbances (16%), wild fires (0%), stand dynamics (7%), reproduction (10%) and biome shifts (67%) globally. We conclude that while NPP and soil decomposition rates jointly account for 83% of future climate induced C-uptake uncertainties, vegetation turnover and structure, dominated by shifts in vegetation distribution, represent a significant fraction globally and regionally (tropical forests: 40%), strongly motivating their representation and analysis in future C-cycle studies.