The contribution of terrestrial sources and sinks to trends in the seasonal cycle of atmospheric carbon dioxide

Authors

  • James T. Randerson,

  • Matthew V. Thompson,

  • Thomas J. Conway,

  • Inez Y. Fung,

  • Christopher B. Field


Abstract

We characterized decadal changes in the amplitude and shape of the seasonal cycle of atmospheric CO2 with three kinds of analysis. First, we calculated the trends in the seasonal cycle of measured atmospheric CO2 at observation stations in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Monitoring and Diagnostic Laboratory network. Second, we assessed the impact of terrestrial ecosystems in various localities on the mean seasonal cycle of CO2 at observation stations using the Carnegie-Ames-Stanford Approach terrestrial biosphere model and the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) atmospheric tracer transport model. Third, we used the GISS tracer model to quantify the contribution of terrestrial sources and sinks to trends in the seasonal cycle of atmospheric CO2 for the period 1961–1990, specifically examining the effects of biomass burning, emissions from fossil fuel combustion, and regional increases in net primary production (NPP). Our analysis supports results from previous studies that indicate a significant positive increase in the amplitude of the seasonal cycle of CO2 at Arctic and subarctic observation stations. For stations north of 55°N the amplitude increased at a mean rate of 0.66% yr−1 from 1981 to 1995. From the analysis of ecosystem impacts on the mean seasonal cycle we find that tundra, boreal forest, and other northern ecosystems are responsible for most of the seasonal variation in CO2 at stations north of 55°N. The effects of tropical biomass burning on trends in the seasonal cycle are minimal at these stations, probably because of strong vertical convection in equatorial regions. From 1981 to 1990, fossil fuel emissions contributed a trend of 0.20% yr−1 to the seasonal cycle amplitude at Mauna Loa and less than 0.10% yr−1 at stations north of 55°N. To match the observed amplitude increases at Arctic and subarctic stations with NPP increases, we find that north of 30°N a 1.7 Pg C yr−1 terrestrial sink would be required. In contrast, over regions south of 30°N, even large NPP increases and accompanying terrestrial sinks would be insufficient to account for the increase in high-latitude amplitudes.

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