Terrestrial carbon cycle: Climate relations in eight CMIP5 earth system models

Pu Shao, Xubin Zeng, Koichi Sakaguchi, Russell K. Monson, Xiaodong Zeng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Scopus citations


Eight Earth System Models from phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) are evaluated, focusing on both the net carbon dioxide flux and its components and their relation with climatic variables (temperature, precipitation, and soil moisture) in the historical (1850-2005) and representative concentration pathway 4.5 (RCP4.5; 2006-2100) simulations. While model results differ, their median globally averaged production and respiration terms from 1976 to 2005 agree reasonably with available observation-based products. Disturbances such as land use change are roughly represented but crucial in determining whether the land is a carbon source or sink over many regions in both simulations. While carbon fluxes vary with latitude and between the two simulations, the ratio of net to gross primary production, representing the ecosystem carbon use efficiency, is less dependent on latitude and does not differ significantly in the historical and RCP4.5 simulations. The linear trend of increased land carbon fluxes (except net ecosystem production) is accelerated in the twenty-first century. The cumulative net ecosystem production by 2100 is positive (i.e., carbon sink) in all models and the tropical and boreal latitudes become major carbon sinks in most models. The temporal correlations between annual-mean carbon cycle and climate variables vary substantially (including the change of sign) among the eight models in both the historical and twenty-first-century simulations. The ranges of correlations of carbon cycle variables with precipitation and soil moisture are also quite different, reflecting the important impact of the model treatment of the hydrological cycle on the carbon cycle.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8744-8764
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number22
StatePublished - Nov 2013


  • Anthropogenic effects
  • Atmosphere-land interaction
  • Biosphere-atmosphere interaction
  • Carbon cycle
  • Ecological models
  • Model evaluation/performance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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