Global Biogeochemical Cycles

Spatiotemporal patterns of terrestrial carbon cycle during the 20th century



[1] We evaluated how climate change, rising atmospheric CO2 concentration, and land use change influenced the terrestrial carbon (C) cycle for the last century using a process-based ecosystem model. Over the last century, the modeled land use change emitted about 129 Pg of C to the atmosphere. About 76% (or 98 Pg C) of this emission, however, was offset by net C uptake on land driven by climate changes and rising atmospheric CO2 concentration. Thus, the modeled net release of C from the terrestrial ecosystems to the atmosphere from 1901 to 2002 is about 31 Pg C. Global net primary productivity (NPP) has significantly increased by 14% during the last century, especially since the 1970s. From 1980 to 2002, global NPP increased with an average increase rate of 0.4% yr−1. At global scale, such an increase seems to be primarily attributed to the increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration, and then to precipitation change. Over the last 2 decades, climate change and rising CO2 forced the land carbon sink (1.6 Pg C yr−1 for 1980s and 2.2 Pg C yr−1 for 1990s) to be larger than land use change driven carbon emissions (1.0 Pg C yr−1 for 1980s and 1.2 Pg C yr−1 for 1990s), resulting a net land sink of 0.5 Pg C yr−1 in the 1980s and of 1.0 Pg C yr−1 in the 1990s. The largest C emission from land use change appeared in tropical regions with an average emission of 0.6 Pg C yr−1 in 1980s and 0.7 Pg C yr−1 in 1990s, which is slightly larger than net carbon uptake due to CO2 fertilization and climate change. Thus, net carbon balance of tropical lands is close to neutral over the past 2 decades (about 0.13 Pg C yr−1 in 1980s and 0.03 Pg C yr−1 in 1990s). We also found that current global warming has already started accelerating C loss from terrestrial ecosystems, by enhanced decomposition of soil organic carbon. In response to warming trends only, the global net carbon uptake significantly decreased, offsetting about 70% of the increase in global net carbon uptake owing to CO2 fertilization during 1980–2002. The global terrestrial C cycle also shows large year-to-year variations, and different regions have quite distinct dominant drivers. Generally, interannual changes of carbon fluxes in tropical and temperate ecosystems are mainly explained by precipitation variability, while temperature variability plays a major role in boreal ecosystems.