Modelling changes in VOC emission in response to climate change in the continental United States


and present address: Department of Biological Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago, 845 West Taylor St., Chicago, IL 60607, USA, fax +1/312 413 2435, e-mail


The alteration of climate is driven not only by anthropogenic activities, but also by biosphere processes that change in conjunction with climate. Emission of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from vegetation may be particularly sensitive to changes in climate and may play an important role in climate forcing through their influence on the atmospheric oxidative balance, greenhouse gas concentration, and the formation of aerosols. Using the VEMAP vegetation database and associated vegetation responses to climate change, this study examined the independent and combined effects of simulated changes in temperature, CO2 concentration, and vegetation distribution on annual emissions of isoprene, monoterpenes, and other reactive VOCs (ORVOCs) from potential vegetation of the continental United States. Temperature effects were modelled according to the direct influence of temperature on enzymatic isoprene production and the vapour pressure of monoterpenes and ORVOCs. The effect of elevated CO2 concentration was modelled according to increases in foliar biomass per unit of emitting surface area. The effects of vegetation distribution reflects simulated changes in species spatial distribution and areal coverage by 21 different vegetation classes. Simulated climate warming associated with a doubled atmospheric CO2 concentration enhanced total modelled VOC emission by 81.8% (isoprene + 82.1%, monoterpenes + 81.6%, ORVOC + 81.1%), whereas a simulated doubled CO2 alone enhanced total modelled VOC emission by only + 11.8% (isoprene + 13.7%, monoterpenes + 4.1%, ORVOC + 11.7%). A simulated redistribution of vegetation in response to altered temperatures and precipitation patterns caused total modelled VOC emission to decline by 10.4% (isoprene – 11.7%, monoterpenes – 18.6%, ORVOC 0.0%) driven by a decline in area covered by vegetation classes emitting VOCs at high rates. Thus, the positive effect of leaf-level adjustments to elevated CO2 (i.e. increases in foliar biomass) is balanced by the negative effect of ecosystem-level adjustments to climate (i.e. decreases in areal coverage of species emitting VOC at high rates).