Impacts of land cover and climate data selection on understanding terrestrial carbon dynamics and the CO 2 airborne fraction

B. Poulter, D. C. Frank, E. L. Hodson, N. E. Zimmermann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


Terrestrial and oceanic carbon cycle processes remove ∼55 % of global carbon emissions, with the remaining 45 %, known as the "airborne fraction", accumulating in the atmosphere. The long-term dynamics of the component fluxes contributing to the airborne fraction are challenging to interpret, but important for informing fossil-fuel emission targets and for monitoring the trends of biospheric carbon fluxes. Climate and land-cover forcing data for terrestrial ecosystem models are a largely unexplored source of uncertainty in terms of their contribution to understanding airborne fraction dynamics. Here we present results using a single dynamic global vegetation model forced by an ensemble experiment of climate (CRU, ERA-Interim, NCEP-DOE II), and diagnostic land-cover datasets (GLC2000, GlobCover, MODIS). For the averaging period 1996-2005, forcing uncertainties resulted in a large range of simulated global carbon fluxes, up to 13 % for net primary production (52.4 to 60.2 Pg C a -1) and 19 % for soil respiration (44.2 to 54.8 Pg C -1). The sensitivity of contemporary global terrestrial carbon fluxes to climate strongly depends on forcing data (1.2-5.9 Pg C K -1 or 0.5 to 2.7 ppmv CO 2 K -1), but weakening carbon sinks in sub-tropical regions and strengthening carbon sinks in northern latitudes are found to be robust. The climate and land-cover combination that best correlate to the inferred carbon sink, and with the lowest residuals, is from observational data (CRU) rather than reanalysis climate data and with land-cover categories that have more stringent criteria for forest cover (MODIS). Since 1998, an increasing positive trend in residual error from bottom-up accounting of global sinks and sources (from 0.03 (1989-2005) to 0.23 Pg C a -1 (1998-2005)) suggests that either modeled drought sensitivity of carbon fluxes is too high, or that carbon emissions from net land-cover change is too large.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2027-2036
Number of pages10
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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