Articles | Volume 10, issue 6
Research article
25 Jun 2013
Research article |  | 25 Jun 2013

Towards a more objective evaluation of modelled land-carbon trends using atmospheric CO2 and satellite-based vegetation activity observations

D. Dalmonech and S. Zaehle

Abstract. Terrestrial ecosystem models used for Earth system modelling show a significant divergence in future patterns of ecosystem processes, in particular the net land–atmosphere carbon exchanges, despite a seemingly common behaviour for the contemporary period. An in-depth evaluation of these models is hence of high importance to better understand the reasons for this disagreement.

Here, we develop an extension for existing benchmarking systems by making use of the complementary information contained in the observational records of atmospheric CO2 and remotely sensed vegetation activity to provide a novel set of diagnostics of ecosystem responses to climate variability in the last 30 yr at different temporal and spatial scales. The selection of observational characteristics (traits) specifically considers the robustness of information given that the uncertainty of both data and evaluation methodology is largely unknown or difficult to quantify.

Based on these considerations, we introduce a baseline benchmark – a minimum test that any model has to pass – to provide a more objective, quantitative evaluation framework. The benchmarking strategy can be used for any land surface model, either driven by observed meteorology or coupled to a climate model.

We apply this framework to evaluate the offline version of the MPI Earth System Model's land surface scheme JSBACH. We demonstrate that the complementary use of atmospheric CO2 and satellite-based vegetation activity data allows pinpointing of specific model deficiencies that would not be possible by the sole use of atmospheric CO2 observations.

Final-revised paper