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Global covariation of carbon turnover times with climate in terrestrial ecosystems

MPS-Authors
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Carvalhais,  Nuno
Model-Data Integration, Dr. Nuno Carvalhais, Department Biogeochemical Integration, Dr. M. Reichstein, Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Max Planck Society;

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Forkel,  Matthias
Model-Data Integration, Dr. Nuno Carvalhais, Department Biogeochemical Integration, Dr. M. Reichstein, Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Max Planck Society;
IMPRS International Max Planck Research School for Global Biogeochemical Cycles, Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry , Max Planck Society;

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Khomik,  Myroslava
Department Biogeochemical Integration, Dr. M. Reichstein, Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Max Planck Society;

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Jung,  Martin
Global Diagnostic Modelling, Dr. Martin Jung, Department Biogeochemical Integration, Dr. M. Reichstein, Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Max Planck Society;

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Migliavacca,  Mirco
Biosphere-Atmosphere Interactions and Experimentation, Dr. M. Migliavacca, Department Biogeochemical Integration, Dr. M. Reichstein, Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Max Planck Society;

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Thurner,  Martin
Model-Data Integration, Dr. Nuno Carvalhais, Department Biogeochemical Integration, Dr. M. Reichstein, Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Max Planck Society;

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Weber,  Ulrich
Department Biogeochemical Integration, Dr. M. Reichstein, Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Max Planck Society;

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Ahrens,  Bernhard
Soil Processes, Dr. Marion Schrumpf, Department Biogeochemical Integration, Dr. M. Reichstein, Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Max Planck Society;

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Beer,  Christian
Terrestrial Ecosystem Modelling, Dr. Christian Beer, Department Biogeochemical Integration, Dr. M. Reichstein, Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Max Planck Society;

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Reichstein,  Markus
Department Biogeochemical Integration, Dr. M. Reichstein, Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Max Planck Society;

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Citation

Carvalhais, N., Forkel, M., Khomik, M., Bellarby, J., Jung, M., Migliavacca, M., et al. (2014). Global covariation of carbon turnover times with climate in terrestrial ecosystems. Nature, 514, 213-217. doi:10.1038/nature13731.


Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0023-E259-4
Abstract
The response of the terrestrial carbon cycle to climate change is among the largest uncertainties affecting future climate change projections1, 2. The feedback between the terrestrial carbon cycle and climate is partly determined by changes in the turnover time of carbon in land ecosystems, which in turn is an ecosystem property that emerges from the interplay between climate, soil and vegetation type3, 4, 5, 6. Here we present a global, spatially explicit and observation-based assessment of whole-ecosystem carbon turnover times that combines new estimates of vegetation and soil organic carbon stocks and fluxes. We find that the overall mean global carbon turnover time is years (95 per cent confidence interval). On average, carbon resides in the vegetation and soil near the Equator for a shorter time than at latitudes north of 75° north (mean turnover times of 15 and 255 years, respectively). We identify a clear dependence of the turnover time on temperature, as expected from our present understanding of temperature controls on ecosystem dynamics. Surprisingly, our analysis also reveals a similarly strong association between turnover time and precipitation. Moreover, we find that the ecosystem carbon turnover times simulated by state-of-the-art coupled climate/carbon-cycle models vary widely and that numerical simulations, on average, tend to underestimate the global carbon turnover time by 36 per cent. The models show stronger spatial relationships with temperature than do observation-based estimates, but generally do not reproduce the strong relationships with precipitation and predict faster carbon turnover in many semi-arid regions. Our findings suggest that future climate/carbon-cycle feedbacks may depend more strongly on changes in the hydrological cycle than is expected at present and is considered in Earth system models.