Robustness and uncertainty in terrestrial ecosystem carbon response to CMIP5 climate change projections

Type: Report
Series: Environmental Research Letters 7 (2012)
Author: A Ahlström G Schurgers A Arneth B Smith


We have investigated the spatio-temporal carbon balance patterns resulting from forcing a dynamic global vegetation model with output from 18 climate models of the CMIP5 (Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5) ensemble. We found robust patterns in terms of an extra-tropical loss of carbon, except for a temperature induced shift in phenology, leading to an increased spring uptake of carbon. There are less robust patterns in the tropics, a result of disagreement in projections of precipitation and temperature. Although the simulations generally agree well in terms of the sign of the carbon balance change in the middle to high latitudes, there are large differences in the magnitude of the loss between simulations. Together with tropical uncertainties these discrepancies accumulate over time, resulting in large differences in total carbon uptake over the coming century. The terrestrial biosphere becomes a net source of carbon in ten of the 18 simulations adding to the atmospheric CO2 concentrations, while the remaining eight simulations indicate an increased sink of carbon.