A large committed long-term sink of carbon due to vegetation dynamics

Pugh, T.A.M.; Jones, C.D.; Huntingford, C.; Burton, C.; Arneth, A.; Brovkin, V.; Ciais, P.; Lomas, M.; Robertson, E.; Piao, S.L.; Sitch, S.. 2018 A large committed long-term sink of carbon due to vegetation dynamics. Earth's Future, 6 (10). 1413-1432.

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The terrestrial biosphere shows substantial inertia in its response to environmental change. Hence, assessments of transient changes in ecosystem properties to 2100 do not capture the full magnitude of the response realized once ecosystems reach an effective equilibrium with the changed environmental boundary conditions. This equilibrium state can be termed the ‘committed state’, in contrast to a ‘transient state’ in which the ecosystem is in disequilibrium. The difference in ecosystem properties between the transient and committed states represents the ‘committed change’ yet to be realized. Here an ensemble of Dynamic Global Vegetation Model (DGVM) simulations was used to assess the changes in tree cover and carbon storage for a variety of committed states, relative to a pre‐industrial baseline, and to attribute the drivers of uncertainty. Using a subset of simulations, the committed changes in these variables post‐2100, assuming climate stabilization, were calculated. The results show large committed changes in tree cover and carbon storage, with model disparities driven by residence time in the tropics, and residence time and productivity in the boreal. Large changes remain on‐going well beyond the end of the 21st century. In boreal ecosystems, the simulated increase in vegetation carbon storage above pre‐industrial levels was 20‐95 Pg C at 2 K of warming, and 45‐201 Pg C at 5 K, of which 38‐155 Pg C was due to expansion in tree cover. Reducing the large uncertainties in long‐term commitment and rate‐of‐change of terrestrial carbon uptake will be crucial for assessments of emissions budgets consistent with limiting climate change.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Hydro-climate Risks (Science Area 2017-)
ISSN: 2328-4277
Additional Information. Not used in RCUK Gateway to Research.: Open Access paper - full text available via Official URL link.
Additional Keywords: vegetation, carbon cycling, committed sink, DGVM, ESM
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Meteorology and Climatology
Date made live: 26 Sep 2018 15:28 +0 (UTC)

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