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Reduced North American terrestrial primary productivity linked to anomalous Arctic warming

Nature Geoscience volume 10, pages 572576 (2017) | Download Citation


Warming temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere have enhanced terrestrial productivity. Despite the warming trend, North America has experienced more frequent and more intense cold weather events during winters and springs. These events have been linked to anomalous Arctic warming since 1990, and may affect terrestrial processes. Here we analyse multiple observation data sets and numerical model simulations to evaluate links between Arctic temperatures and primary productivity in North America. We find that positive springtime temperature anomalies in the Arctic have led to negative anomalies in gross primary productivity over most of North America during the last three decades, which amount to a net productivity decline of 0.31 PgC yr−1 across the continent. This decline is mainly explained by two factors: severe cold conditions in northern North America and lower precipitation in the South Central United States. In addition, United States crop-yield data reveal that during years experiencing anomalous warming in the Arctic, yields declined by approximately 1 to 4% on average, with individual states experiencing declines of up to 20%. We conclude that the strengthening of Arctic warming anomalies in the past decades has remotely reduced productivity over North America.

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We acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme’s Working Group on Coupled Modelling, which is responsible for CMIP, and we thank the climate modelling groups (listed in Supplementary Table 4) for producing and making available their model output. Funding for the Multi-scale synthesis and Terrestrial Model Intercomparison Project (MsTMIP; activity was provided through NASA ROSES Grant no. NNX10AG01A. Data management support for preparing, documenting and distributing model driver and output data was performed by the Modeling and Synthesis Thematic Data Center at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL;, with funding through NASA ROSES Grant no. NNH10AN681. Finalized MsTMIP data products are archived at the ORNL DAAC ( Funding for AmeriFlux data resources was provided by the US Department of Energy’s Office of Science. The authors thank N. Mueller for his careful comments on the crop data analysis. J.-S.Kug and J.-S.Kim were supported by the Korean Meteorological Administration Research and Development Program under Grant KMIPA2015-2092 and National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF-2017R1A2B3011511). S.-J.J. was supported by the startup of South University of Science and Technology of China.

Author information


  1. Division of Environmental Science and Engineering, Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH), Pohang 37673, South Korea

    • Jin-Soo Kim
    •  & Jong-Seong Kug
  2. School of Environmental Science and Engineering, South University of Science and Technology of China (SUSTECH), Shenzhen 518055, China

    • Su-Jong Jeong
  3. School of Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, Arizona 86011, USA

    • Deborah N. Huntzinger
  4. Department of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford, California 94305, USA

    • Anna M. Michalak
  5. Woods Hole Research Center, Falmouth, Massachusetts 02540, USA

    • Christopher R. Schwalm
  6. Center for Ecosystem Science and Society, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, Arizona 86011, USA

    • Christopher R. Schwalm
  7. Environmental Sciences Division and Climate Change Science Institute, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee 37831, USA

    • Yaxing Wei
  8. National Snow and Ice Data Center, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, Colorado 80309, USA

    • Kevin Schaefer


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J.-S.Kim compiled the data, conducted analyses, prepared figures, and wrote the manuscript. J.-S.Kug and S.-J.J. designed the research and wrote the majority of the manuscript content. All of the authors discussed the study results and reviewed the manuscript. D.N.H., A.M.M., C.R.S., Y.W. and K.S. provide the MsTMIP data.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Jong-Seong Kug or Su-Jong Jeong.

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