The possible responses of ecosystem processes to rising atmospheric CO2 concentration and climate change are illustrated using six dynamic global vegetation models that explicitly represent the interactions of ecosystem carbon and water exchanges with vegetation dynamics. The models are driven by the IPCC IS92a scenario of rising CO2 (Wigley et al. 1991), and by climate changes resulting from effective CO2 concentrations corresponding to IS92a, simulated by the coupled ocean atmosphere model HadCM2-SUL. Simulations with changing CO2 alone show a widely distributed terrestrial carbon sink of 1.4–3.8 Pg C y−1 during the 1990s, rising to 3.7–8.6 Pg C y−1 a century later. Simulations including climate change show a reduced sink both today (0.6–3.0 Pg C y−1) and a century later (0.3–6.6 Pg C y−1) as a result of the impacts of climate change on NEP of tropical and southern hemisphere ecosystems. In all models, the rate of increase of NEP begins to level off around 2030 as a consequence of the ‘diminishing return’ of physiological CO2 effects at high CO2 concentrations. Four out of the six models show a further, climate-induced decline in NEP resulting from increased heterotrophic respiration and declining tropical NPP after 2050. Changes in vegetation structure influence the magnitude and spatial pattern of the carbon sink and, in combination with changing climate, also freshwater availability (runoff). It is shown that these changes, once set in motion, would continue to evolve for at least a century even if atmospheric CO2 concentration and climate could be instantaneously stabilized. The results should be considered illustrative in the sense that the choice of CO2 concentration scenario was arbitrary and only one climate model scenario was used. However, the results serve to indicate a range of possible biospheric responses to CO2 and climate change. They reveal major uncertainties about the response of NEP to climate change resulting, primarily, from differences in the way that modelled global NPP responds to a changing climate. The simulations illustrate, however, that the magnitude of possible biospheric influences on the carbon balance requires that this factor is taken into account for future scenarios of atmospheric CO2 and climate change.
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