Research Article

Recent global decline of CO2 fertilization effects on vegetation photosynthesis

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Science  11 Dec 2020:
Vol. 370, Issue 6522, pp. 1295-1300
DOI: 10.1126/science.abb7772

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A decline in the carbon fertilization effect

One source of uncertainty in climate science is how the carbon fertilization effect (CFE) will contribute to mitigation of anthropogenic climate change. Wang et al. explored the temporal dynamics of CFE on vegetation photosynthesis at the global scale. There has been a decline over recent decades in the contribution of CFE to vegetation photosynthesis, perhaps owing to the limiting effects of plant nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. This declining trend has not been adequately accounted for in carbon cycle models. CFE thus has limitations for long-term mitigation of climate change, and future warming might currently be underestimated.

Science, this issue p. 1295


The enhanced vegetation productivity driven by increased concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) [i.e., the CO2 fertilization effect (CFE)] sustains an important negative feedback on climate warming, but the temporal dynamics of CFE remain unclear. Using multiple long-term satellite- and ground-based datasets, we showed that global CFE has declined across most terrestrial regions of the globe from 1982 to 2015, correlating well with changing nutrient concentrations and availability of soil water. Current carbon cycle models also demonstrate a declining CFE trend, albeit one substantially weaker than that from the global observations. This declining trend in the forcing of terrestrial carbon sinks by increasing amounts of atmospheric CO2 implies a weakening negative feedback on the climatic system and increased societal dependence on future strategies to mitigate climate warming.

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