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Terrestrial Gross Carbon Dioxide Uptake: Global Distribution and Covariation with Climate

Science  13 Aug 2010:
Vol. 329, Issue 5993, pp. 834-838
DOI: 10.1126/science.1184984

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Carbon Cycle and Climate Change

As climate change accelerates, it is important to know the likely impact of climate change on the carbon cycle (see the Perspective by Reich). Gross primary production (GPP) is a measure of the amount of CO2 removed from the atmosphere every year to fuel photosynthesis. Beer et al. (p. 834, published online 5 July) used a combination of observation and calculation to estimate that the total GPP by terrestrial plants is around 122 billion tons per year; in comparison, burning fossil fuels emits about 7 billion tons annually. Thirty-two percent of this uptake occurs in tropical forests, and precipitation controls carbon uptake in more than 40% of vegetated land. The temperature sensitivity (Q10) of ecosystem respiratory processes is a key determinant of the interaction between climate and the carbon cycle. Mahecha et al. (p. 838, published online 5 July) now show that the Q10 of ecosystem respiration is invariant with respect to mean annual temperature, independent of the analyzed ecosystem type, with a global mean value for Q10 of 1.6. This level of temperature sensitivity suggests a less-pronounced climate sensitivity of the carbon cycle than assumed by recent climate models.

Abstract

Terrestrial gross primary production (GPP) is the largest global CO2 flux driving several ecosystem functions. We provide an observation-based estimate of this flux at 123 ± 8 petagrams of carbon per year (Pg C year−1) using eddy covariance flux data and various diagnostic models. Tropical forests and savannahs account for 60%. GPP over 40% of the vegetated land is associated with precipitation. State-of-the-art process-oriented biosphere models used for climate predictions exhibit a large between-model variation of GPP’s latitudinal patterns and show higher spatial correlations between GPP and precipitation, suggesting the existence of missing processes or feedback mechanisms which attenuate the vegetation response to climate. Our estimates of spatially distributed GPP and its covariation with climate can help improve coupled climate–carbon cycle process models.

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