Temperature-associated increases in the global soil respiration record

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Soil respiration, RS, the flux of microbially and plant-respired carbon dioxide (CO2) from the soil surface to the atmosphere, is the second-largest terrestrial carbon flux1,2,3. However, the dynamics of RS are not well understood and the global flux remains poorly constrained4,5. Ecosystem warming experiments6,7, modelling analyses8,9 and fundamental biokinetics10 all suggest that RS should change with climate. This has been difficult to confirm observationally because of the high spatial variability of RS, inaccessibility of the soil medium and the inability of remote-sensing instruments to measure RS on large scales. Despite these constraints, it may be possible to discern climate-driven changes in regional or global RS values in the extant four-decade record of RS chamber measurements. Here we construct a database of worldwide RS observations matched with high-resolution historical climate data and find a previously unknown temporal trend in the RS record after accounting for mean annual climate, leaf area, nitrogen deposition and changes in CO2 measurement technique. We find that the air temperature anomaly (the deviation from the 1961–1990 mean) is significantly and positively correlated with changes in RS. We estimate that the global RS in 2008 (that is, the flux integrated over the Earth’s land surface over 2008) was 98 ± 12 Pg C and that it increased by 0.1 Pg C yr-1 between 1989 and 2008, implying a global RS response to air temperature (Q10) of 1.5. An increasing global RS value does not necessarily constitute a positive feedback to the atmosphere, as it could be driven by higher carbon inputs to soil rather than by mobilization of stored older carbon. The available data are, however, consistent with an acceleration of the terrestrial carbon cycle in response to global climate change.

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Figure 1: Collected data on observed R S , by biome.
Figure 2: Estimated annual global RS.
Figure 3: Histograms of modelled R S rates by grid cell.

Change history

  • 17 June 2010

    In the first paragraph of the online-only Methods, the last two sentences were corrected. Please see the corrigendum at the end of the PDF for details.


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This research was supported by the US Department of Energy Office of Science and the Laboratory Directed Research and Development program of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. It would not have been possible without the thousands of researchers who measured and published the data collected here. We thank B. Melchior for his assistance.

Author Contributions B.B.-L. and A.T. designed the study. B.B.-L. collected studies and analysed data, and with A.T. wrote the manuscript.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ben Bond-Lamberty.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information 1

This file contains a guide to Supplementary Data Files 1-3 and Supplementary Information 2. (PDF 132 kb)

Supplementary Data 1

This file contains the soil respiration database. In the version of this file that was originally posted online, a data field (‘Biome’) was missing that has now been corrected. This file was replaced on 24 June 2010. (TXT 118 kb)

Supplementary Data 2

The file contains the studies database, listing reference information for each study in the soil respiration database. (TXT 84 kb)

Supplementary Data 3

This file contains the R programmes used for the data-processing and statistical analysis. (TXT 41 kb)

Supplementary Information 2

This file contains Supplementary Tables S1-S2, a Supplementary Biome Map and a Supplementary Flux Map. (PDF 2814 kb)

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Bond-Lamberty, B., Thomson, A. Temperature-associated increases in the global soil respiration record. Nature 464, 579–582 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature08930

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