Terrestrial carbon cycle affected by non-uniform climate warming


Feedbacks between the terrestrial carbon cycle and climate change could affect many ecosystem functions and services, such as food production, carbon sequestration and climate regulation. The rate of climate warming varies on diurnal and seasonal timescales. A synthesis of global air temperature data reveals a greater rate of warming in winter than in summer in northern mid and high latitudes, and the inverse pattern in some tropical regions. The data also reveal a decline in the diurnal temperature range over 51% of the global land area and an increase over only 13%, because night-time temperatures in most locations have risen faster than daytime temperatures. Analyses of satellite data, model simulations and in situ observations suggest that the impact of seasonal warming varies between regions. For example, spring warming has largely stimulated ecosystem productivity at latitudes between 30° and 90° N, but suppressed productivity in other regions. Contrasting impacts of day- and night-time warming on plant carbon gain and loss are apparent in many regions. We argue that ascertaining the effects of non-uniform climate warming on terrestrial ecosystems is a key challenge in carbon cycle research.

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Figure 1: Global trends of seasonal warming from 1948–2010.
Figure 2: Global trends of diurnal warming from 1948–2010.
Figure 3: Direct warming effects on the terrestrial carbon cycle in each season.
Figure 4: Evidence, agreement and thus confidence of the selected warming-related carbon responses.
Figure 5: Satellite-based and model-simulated impacts of seasonal warming on productivity.
Figure 6: Satellite-based and model-simulated impacts of diurnal warming on productivity.


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We wish to thank Ivan Janssens for his valuable suggestions on the manuscript, Yingping Wang for help with modelling simulations, Lisa Delp Taylor for polishing the language, and Jinwei Dong for his comments on mapping the results. This study was financially supported by the Ministry of Science and Technology (2013CB956300), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41030104, 30925009), and the International Center for Ecology, Meteorology and Environment of Nanjing University of Science and Technology.

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S.W., J.C. and J.X. designed the study. J.X. performed the analyses. J.X., S.W., J.C., S.P. and P.C. drafted the paper. Y.L. contributed to the interpretation of the results and analytical tools. All authors contributed extensively to the revisions of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Shiqiang Wan.

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Xia, J., Chen, J., Piao, S. et al. Terrestrial carbon cycle affected by non-uniform climate warming. Nature Geosci 7, 173–180 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2093

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