Articles | Volume 14, issue 1
Research article
03 Jan 2014
Research article |  | 03 Jan 2014

Terrestrial carbon sink observed from space: variation of growth rates and seasonal cycle amplitudes in response to interannual surface temperature variability

O. Schneising, M. Reuter, M. Buchwitz, J. Heymann, H. Bovensmann, and J. P. Burrows

Abstract. The terrestrial biosphere is currently acting as a net carbon sink on the global scale, exhibiting significant interannual variability in strength. To reliably predict the future strength of the land sink and its role in atmospheric CO2 growth, the underlying biogeochemical processes and their response to a changing climate need to be well understood. In particular, better knowledge of the impact of key climate variables such as temperature or precipitation on the biospheric carbon reservoir is essential.

It is demonstrated using nearly a decade of SCIAMACHY (SCanning Imaging Absorption spectroMeter for Atmospheric CHartographY) nadir measurements that years with higher temperatures during the growing season can be robustly associated with larger growth rates in atmospheric CO2 and smaller seasonal cycle amplitudes for northern mid-latitudes. We find linear relationships between warming and CO2 growth as well as seasonal cycle amplitude at the 98% significance level. This suggests that the terrestrial carbon sink is less efficient at higher temperatures during the analysed time period. Unless the biosphere has the ability to adapt its carbon storage under warming conditions in the longer term, such a temperature response entails the risk of potential future sink saturation via a positive carbon-climate feedback.

Quantitatively, the covariation between the annual CO2 growth rates derived from SCIAMACHY data and warm season surface temperature anomaly amounts to 1.25 ± 0.32 ppm yr−1 K−1 for the Northern Hemisphere, where the bulk of the terrestrial carbon sink is located. In comparison, this relationship is less pronounced in the Southern Hemisphere. The covariation of the seasonal cycle amplitudes retrieved from satellite measurements and temperature anomaly is −1.30 ± 0.31 ppm K−1 for the north temperate zone. These estimates are consistent with those from the CarbonTracker data assimilated CO2 data product, indicating that the temperature dependence of the model surface fluxes is realistic.

Final-revised paper