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A review of the major drivers of the terrestrial carbon uptake: model-based assessments, consensus, and uncertainties

Tharammal, Thejna and Bala, Govindasamy and Devaraju, Narayanappa and Nemani, Ramakrishna (2019) A review of the major drivers of the terrestrial carbon uptake: model-based assessments, consensus, and uncertainties. In: ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH LETTERS, 14 (9).

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Official URL: https://dx.doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab3012


Terrestrial and oceanic carbon sinks together sequester >50% of the anthropogenic emissions, and the major uncertainty in the global carbon budget is related to the terrestrial carbon cycle. Hence, it is important to understand the major drivers of the land carbon uptake to make informed decisions on climate change mitigation policies. In this paper, we assess the major drivers of the land carbon uptake-CO2 fertilization, nitrogen deposition, climate change, and land use/land cover changes (LULCC)-from existing literature for the historical period and future scenarios, focusing on the results from fifth Coupled Models Intercomparison Project (CMIP5). The existing literature shows that the LULCC fluxes have led to a decline in the terrestrial carbon stocks during the historical period, despite positive contributions from CO2 fertilization and nitrogen deposition. However, several studies find increases in the land carbon sink in recent decades and suggest that CO2 fertilization is the primary driver (up to 85%) of this increase followed by nitrogen deposition (similar to 10%-20%). For the 21st century, terrestrial carbon stocks are projected to increase in the majority of CMIP5 simulations under the representative concentration pathway 2.6 (RCP2.6), RCP4.5, and RCP8.5 scenarios, mainly due to CO2 fertilization. These projections indicate that the effects of nitrogen deposition in future scenarios are small (similar to 2%-10%), and climate warming would lead to a loss of land carbon. The vast majority of the studies consider the effects of only one or two of the drivers, impairing comprehensive assessments of the relative contributions of the drivers. Further, the broad range in magnitudes and scenario/model dependence of the sensitivity factors pose challenges in unambiguous projections of land carbon uptake. Improved representation of processes such as LULCC, fires, nutrient limitation and permafrost thawing in the models are necessary to constrain the present-day carbon cycle and for more accurate future projections.

Item Type: Journal Article
Additional Information: The copyright for this article belongs to IOP PUBLISHING LTD
Keywords: land carbon sink; climate change; CO2 fertilization effect; drivers of land carbon uptake
Department/Centre: Division of Mechanical Sciences > Centre for Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences
Date Deposited: 22 Oct 2019 05:49
Last Modified: 22 Oct 2019 05:49
URI: http://eprints.iisc.ac.in/id/eprint/63737

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