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Keywords:

  • carbon cycle;
  • climate change;
  • global warming;
  • northern ecosystems;
  • temperature;
  • vegetative period

[1] Gridded daily temperature from 1950 to 2011 and atmospheric CO2concentration data from high-latitude observing stations and the CarbonTracker assimilation system are used to examine recent spatiotemporal variability of the thermal growing season and its relationship with seasonal biospheric carbon uptake and release in the Northern Hemisphere. The thermal growing season has lengthened substantially since 1950 but most of the lengthening has occurred during the last three decades (2.9 days decade−1, p < 0.01 for 1980–2011), with stronger rates of extension in Eurasia (4.0 days decade−1, p < 0.01) than in North America (1.2 days decade−1, p > 0.05). Unlike most previous studies, which had more limited data coverage over the past decade, we find that strong autumn warming of about 1°C during the second half of the 2000s has led to a significant shift toward later termination of the thermal growing season, resulting in the longest potential growing seasons since 1950. On average, the thermal growing season has extended symmetrically by about a week during this period, starting some 4.0 days earlier and ending about 4.3 days later. The earlier start of the thermal growing season is associated with earlier onset of the biospheric carbon uptake period at high northern latitudes. In contrast, later termination of the growing season is associated with earlier termination of biospheric carbon uptake, but this relationship appears to have decoupled since the beginning of the period of strong autumn warming during the second half of the 2000s. Therefore, owing to these contrasting biospheric responses at the margins of the growing season, the current extension in the thermal growing season length has not led to a concomitant extension of the period of biospheric carbon uptake.