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The high-latitude terrestrial carbon sink: a model analysis


A. White, Department of Mathematics, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh EH14 4AS, fax +44 131 451 3249, e-mail


A dynamic, global vegetation model, hybrid v4.1 (Friend et al. 1997), was driven by transient climate output from the UK Hadley Centre GCM (HadCM2) with the IS92a scenario of increasing atmospheric CO2 equivalent, sulphate aerosols and predicted patterns of atmospheric N deposition. Changes in areas of vegetation types and carbon storage in biomass and soils were predicted for areas north of 50°N from 1860 to 2100. Hybrid is a combined biogeochemical, biophysical and biogeographical model of natural, potential ecosystems. The effect of periodic boreal forest fires was assessed by adding a simple stochastic fire model. Hybrid represents plant physiological and soil processes regulating the carbon, water and N cycles and competition between individuals of parameterized generalized plant types. The latter were combined to represent tundra, temperate grassland, temperate/mixed forest and coniferous forest. The model simulated the current areas and estimated carbon stocks in the four vegetation types.

It was predicted that land areas above 50°N (about 23% of the vegetated global land area) are currently accumulating about 0.4 PgC y−1 (about 30% of the estimated global terrestrial sink) and that this sink could grow to 0.8–1.0 PgC y−1 by the second half of the next century and persist undiminished until 2100. This sink was due mainly to an increase in forest productivity and biomass in response to increasing atmospheric CO2, temperature and N deposition, and includes an estimate of the effect of boreal forest fire, which was estimated to diminish the sink approximately by the amount of carbon emitted to the atmosphere during fires. Averaged over the region, N deposition contributed about 18% to the sink by the 2080 s. As expected, climate change (temperature, precipitation, solar radiation and saturation pressure deficit) and N deposition without increasing atmospheric CO2 produced a carbon source. Forest areas expanded both south and north, halving the current tundra area by 2100. This expansion contributed about 30% to the sink by the 2090 s. Tundra areas which were not invaded by forest fluctuated from sink to source. It was concluded that a high latitude carbon sink exists at present and, even assuming little effect of N deposition, no forest expansion and continued boreal forest fires, the sink is likely to persist at its current level for a century.

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