Interactions between land use change and carbon cycle feedbacks


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Using the Community Earth System Model, we explore the role of human land use and land cover change (LULCC) in modifying the terrestrial carbon budget in simulations forced by Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5, extended to year 2300. Overall, conversion of land (e.g. from forest to croplands via deforestation) results in a model-estimated, cumulative carbon loss of 490 PgC between 1850 and 2300, larger than the 230 PgC loss of carbon caused by climate change over this same interval. The LULCC carbon loss is a combination of a direct loss at the time of conversion and an indirect loss from the reduction of potential terrestrial carbon sinks. Approximately 40% of the carbon loss associated with LULCC in the simulations arises from direct human modification of the land surface; the remaining 60% is an indirect consequence of the loss of potential natural carbon sinks. Because of the multi-century carbon cycle legacy of current land use decisions, a globally averaged amplification factor of 2.6 must be applied to 2015 land use carbon losses to adjust for indirect effects. This estimate is 30% higher when considering the carbon cycle evolution after 2100. Most of the terrestrial uptake of anthropogenic carbon in the model occurs from the influence of rising atmospheric CO2 on photosynthesis in trees, and thus model-projected carbon feedbacks are especially sensitive to deforestation.