Multiple greenhouse-gas feedbacks from the land biosphere under future climate change scenarios

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Atmospheric concentrations of the three important greenhouse gases (GHGs) CO2, CH4 and N2O are mediated by processes in the terrestrial biosphere that are sensitive to climate and CO2. This leads to feedbacks between climate and land and has contributed to the sharp rise in atmospheric GHG concentrations since pre-industrial times. Here, we apply a process-based model to reproduce the historical atmospheric N2O and CH4 budgets within their uncertainties and apply future scenarios for climate, land-use change and reactive nitrogen (Nr) inputs to investigate future GHG emissions and their feedbacks with climate in a consistent and comprehensive framework1. Results suggest that in a business-as-usual scenario, terrestrial N2O and CH4 emissions increase by 80 and 45%, respectively, and the land becomes a net source of C by AD 2100. N2O and CH4 feedbacks imply an additional warming of 0.4–0.5 °C by AD 2300; on top of 0.8–1.0 °C caused by terrestrial carbon cycle and Albedo feedbacks. The land biosphere represents an increasingly positive feedback to anthropogenic climate change and amplifies equilibrium climate sensitivity by 22–27%. Strong mitigation limits the increase of terrestrial GHG emissions and prevents the land biosphere from acting as an increasingly strong amplifier to anthropogenic climate change.

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Figure 1: Schematic of feedback loops and model set-up.
Figure 2: Simulated and observed concentrations.
Figure 3: Future emissions.
Figure 4: Future concentrations, radiative forcing and global mean temperature.
Figure 5: Feedback factors.


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We acknowledge K. Riahi for providing RCP8.5 data, J-F. Lamarque for providing N-deposition data, climate modelling centres participating in CMIP5 as listed in Supplementary Table S1 for providing climate input data, and C2SM at ETHZ for processing and sharing the CMIP5 data. We thank P. Friedlingstein and Th. Stocker for discussions and inputs. We appreciate support by the Swiss National Science Foundation through the National Centre of Competence in Research Climate (NCCR) and the grant to the division of Climate and Environmental Physics, and by the European Commission through the FP7 project CARBOCHANGE (grant no. 264879) and Past4Future (grant no. 243908).

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B.D.S. and R.R. share equal contributions to this work. B.D.S. prepared the model set-up, conducted the offline simulations, compiled the figures and wrote the text. R.R. prepared and conducted the online simulations, and delivered inputs for the model set-up and results analysis. R.S. and M.S. contributed substantially to the LPX model development and the simulations. S.Z. and L.B. provided N-fertilization and N2O input data and technical advice. X-R. contributed substantially to the LPX model development. I.C.P. and F.J. initiated the study, guided the concept and edited the manuscript text. F.J. organized funding for B.S., R.R., R.S. and M.S.

Correspondence to Benjamin D. Stocker.

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Stocker, B., Roth, R., Joos, F. et al. Multiple greenhouse-gas feedbacks from the land biosphere under future climate change scenarios. Nature Clim Change 3, 666–672 (2013) doi:10.1038/nclimate1864

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