An observational constraint on stomatal function in forests: evaluating coupled carbon and water vapor exchange with carbon isotopes in the Community Land Model (CLM4.5)
Abstract. Land surface models are useful tools to quantify contemporary and future climate impact on terrestrial carbon cycle processes, provided they can be appropriately constrained and tested with observations. Stable carbon isotopes of CO2 offer the potential to improve model representation of the coupled carbon and water cycles because they are strongly influenced by stomatal function. Recently, a representation of stable carbon isotope discrimination was incorporated into the Community Land Model component of the Community Earth System Model. Here, we tested the model's capability to simulate whole-forest isotope discrimination in a subalpine conifer forest at Niwot Ridge, Colorado, USA. We distinguished between isotopic behavior in response to a decrease of δ13C within atmospheric CO2 (Suess effect) vs. photosynthetic discrimination (Δcanopy), by creating a site-customized atmospheric CO2 and δ13C of CO2 time series. We implemented a seasonally varying Vcmax model calibration that best matched site observations of net CO2 carbon exchange, latent heat exchange, and biomass. The model accurately simulated observed δ13C of needle and stem tissue, but underestimated the δ13C of bulk soil carbon by 1–2 ‰. The model overestimated the multiyear (2006–2012) average Δcanopy relative to prior data-based estimates by 2–4 ‰. The amplitude of the average seasonal cycle of Δcanopy (i.e., higher in spring/fall as compared to summer) was correctly modeled but only when using a revised, fully coupled An − gs (net assimilation rate, stomatal conductance) version of the model in contrast to the partially coupled An − gs version used in the default model. The model attributed most of the seasonal variation in discrimination to An, whereas interannual variation in simulated Δcanopy during the summer months was driven by stomatal response to vapor pressure deficit (VPD). The model simulated a 10 % increase in both photosynthetic discrimination and water-use efficiency (WUE) since 1850 which is counter to established relationships between discrimination and WUE. The isotope observations used here to constrain CLM suggest (1) the model overestimated stomatal conductance and (2) the default CLM approach to representing nitrogen limitation (partially coupled model) was not capable of reproducing observed trends in discrimination. These findings demonstrate that isotope observations can provide important information related to stomatal function driven by environmental stress from VPD and nitrogen limitation. Future versions of CLM that incorporate carbon isotope discrimination are likely to benefit from explicit inclusion of mesophyll conductance.