Articles | Volume 16, issue 14
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 16, 9047–9066, 2016
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 16, 9047–9066, 2016

Research article 25 Jul 2016

Research article | 25 Jul 2016

Increasing summer net CO2 uptake in high northern ecosystems inferred from atmospheric inversions and comparisons to remote-sensing NDVI

Lisa R. Welp1,a, Prabir K. Patra2, Christian Rödenbeck3, Rama Nemani4, Jian Bi1, Stephen C. Piper1, and Ralph F. Keeling1 Lisa R. Welp et al.
  • 1Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, California, USA
  • 2Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, Yokahama, Japan
  • 3Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Jena, Germany
  • 4NASA Ames Research Center, Moffet Field, California, USA
  • anow at: Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, USA

Abstract. Warmer temperatures and elevated atmospheric CO2 concentrations over the last several decades have been credited with increasing vegetation activity and photosynthetic uptake of CO2 from the atmosphere in the high northern latitude ecosystems: the boreal forest and arctic tundra. At the same time, soils in the region have been warming, permafrost is melting, fire frequency and severity are increasing, and some regions of the boreal forest are showing signs of stress due to drought or insect disturbance. The recent trends in net carbon balance of these ecosystems, across heterogeneous disturbance patterns, and the future implications of these changes are unclear. Here, we examine CO2 fluxes from northern boreal and tundra regions from 1985 to 2012, estimated from two atmospheric inversions (RIGC and Jena). Both used measured atmospheric CO2 concentrations and wind fields from interannually variable climate reanalysis. In the arctic zone, the latitude region above 60° N excluding Europe (10° W–63° E), neither inversion finds a significant long-term trend in annual CO2 balance. The boreal zone, the latitude region from approximately 50–60° N, again excluding Europe, showed a trend of 8–11 Tg C yr−2 over the common period of validity from 1986 to 2006, resulting in an annual CO2 sink in 2006 that was 170–230 Tg C yr−1 larger than in 1986. This trend appears to continue through 2012 in the Jena inversion as well. In both latitudinal zones, the seasonal amplitude of monthly CO2 fluxes increased due to increased uptake in summer, and in the arctic zone also due to increased fall CO2 release. These findings suggest that the boreal zone has been maintaining and likely increasing CO2 sink strength over this period, despite browning trends in some regions and changes in fire frequency and land use. Meanwhile, the arctic zone shows that increased summer CO2 uptake, consistent with strong greening trends, is offset by increased fall CO2 release, resulting in a net neutral trend in annual fluxes. The inversion fluxes from the arctic and boreal zones covering the permafrost regions showed no indication of a large-scale positive climate–carbon feedback caused by warming temperatures on high northern latitude terrestrial CO2 fluxes from 1985 to 2012.

Short summary
Boreal and arctic ecosystems have been responding to elevated temperatures and atmospheric CO2 over the last decades. It is not clear if these ecosystems are sequestering more carbon or possibly becoming sources. This is an important feedback of the carbon cycle to global warming. We studied monthly biological land CO2 fluxes inferred from atmospheric CO2 concentrations using inverse models and found that net summer CO2 uptake increased, resulting in a small increase in annual CO2 uptake.
Final-revised paper