Articles | Volume 6, issue 10
Biogeosciences, 6, 2099–2120, 2009
Biogeosciences, 6, 2099–2120, 2009

  08 Oct 2009

08 Oct 2009

Carbon-nitrogen interactions regulate climate-carbon cycle feedbacks: results from an atmosphere-ocean general circulation model

P. E. Thornton1, S. C. Doney2, K. Lindsay3, J. K. Moore4, N. Mahowald5, J. T. Randerson4, I. Fung6, J.-F. Lamarque7,8, J. J. Feddema9, and Y.-H. Lee3 P. E. Thornton et al.
  • 1Environmental Sciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN 37831-6335, USA
  • 2Department of Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA 02543-1543, USA
  • 3Climate and Global Dynamics Division, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO 80307-3000, USA
  • 4Department of Earth System Science, University of California, Irvine, CA 92697-3100, USA
  • 5Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14850, USA
  • 6Department of Earth and Planetary Science, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-4767, USA
  • 7NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory, Chemical Sciences Division, 325 Broadway, Boulder, CO 80305-3337, USA
  • 8Atmospheric Chemistry Division, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO 80307-3000, USA
  • 9Department of Geography, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS 66045-7613, USA

Abstract. Inclusion of fundamental ecological interactions between carbon and nitrogen cycles in the land component of an atmosphere-ocean general circulation model (AOGCM) leads to decreased carbon uptake associated with CO2 fertilization, and increased carbon uptake associated with warming of the climate system. The balance of these two opposing effects is to reduce the fraction of anthropogenic CO2 predicted to be sequestered in land ecosystems. The primary mechanism responsible for increased land carbon storage under radiatively forced climate change is shown to be fertilization of plant growth by increased mineralization of nitrogen directly associated with increased decomposition of soil organic matter under a warming climate, which in this particular model results in a negative gain for the climate-carbon feedback. Estimates for the land and ocean sink fractions of recent anthropogenic emissions are individually within the range of observational estimates, but the combined land plus ocean sink fractions produce an airborne fraction which is too high compared to observations. This bias is likely due in part to an underestimation of the ocean sink fraction. Our results show a significant growth in the airborne fraction of anthropogenic CO2 emissions over the coming century, attributable in part to a steady decline in the ocean sink fraction. Comparison to experimental studies on the fate of radio-labeled nitrogen tracers in temperate forests indicates that the model representation of competition between plants and microbes for new mineral nitrogen resources is reasonable. Our results suggest a weaker dependence of net land carbon flux on soil moisture changes in tropical regions, and a stronger positive growth response to warming in those regions, than predicted by a similar AOGCM implemented without land carbon-nitrogen interactions. We expect that the between-model uncertainty in predictions of future atmospheric CO2 concentration and associated anthropogenic climate change will be reduced as additional climate models introduce carbon-nitrogen cycle interactions in their land components.

Final-revised paper