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Terrestrial biogeochemical feedbacks in the climate system

Abstract

The terrestrial biosphere is a key regulator of atmospheric chemistry and climate. During past periods of climate change, vegetation cover and interactions between the terrestrial biosphere and atmosphere changed within decades. Modern observations show a similar responsiveness of terrestrial biogeochemistry to anthropogenically forced climate change and air pollution. Although interactions between the carbon cycle and climate have been a central focus, other biogeochemical feedbacks could be as important in modulating future climate change. Total positive radiative forcings resulting from feedbacks between the terrestrial biosphere and the atmosphere are estimated to reach up to 0.9 or 1.5 W m−2 K−1 towards the end of the twenty-first century, depending on the extent to which interactions with the nitrogen cycle stimulate or limit carbon sequestration. This substantially reduces and potentially even eliminates the cooling effect owing to carbon dioxide fertilization of the terrestrial biota. The overall magnitude of the biogeochemical feedbacks could potentially be similar to that of feedbacks in the physical climate system, but there are large uncertainties in the magnitude of individual estimates and in accounting for synergies between these effects.

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Figure 1: Radiative forcing from terrestrial biogeochemistry feedbacks in response to anthropogenic atmospheric and climate changes.
Figure 2: Superposed epoch analysis of ice-core and biomass-burning records over the interval 80 ka to 10 ka.

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Acknowledgements

The authors acknowledge the Integrated Land Ecosystem–Atmosphere Processes Study (iLEAPS), core project of the International Geosphere–Biosphere Programme (IGBP), and the discussions at the Science Workshop on Past, Present and Future Climate Change in Helsinki, November 2008. The Helsinki workshop and the manuscript preparation were supported by the Finnish Cultural Foundation. A.A. acknowledges support from the Academy of Finland, and the Swedish research councils VR and Formas. S.P.H. and S.Z. acknowledge funding from the EC-supported project GREENCYCLES (MRTN-CT-2004-512464). K.T. was supported by an appointment to the NASA Postdoctoral Program at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, administered by Oak Ridge Associated Universities through a contract with NASA. The work at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory was performed under Contract No. DE-AC02-05CH11231. S.M. acknowledges funding support from the NASA MAP program and the DOE ASR program. P.J.B. acknowledges support from the US NSF Paleoclimate program. Suggestions made by Chris Jones helped to improve our analysis substantially.

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This Review was conceived at a workshop coordinated by M.K., A.K. and S.S., and all authors participated in the subsequent discussions and planning. S.M., K.T., S.Z., H.F., D.D. and G.S. contributed model simulations; A.A., S.P.H., P.J.B., S.S. and S.Z. were responsible for analyses and figures; and A.A. and S.P.H. were responsible for the first draft of the paper. All authors provided input to the drafting and final version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to A. Arneth.

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Arneth, A., Harrison, S., Zaehle, S. et al. Terrestrial biogeochemical feedbacks in the climate system. Nature Geosci 3, 525–532 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo905

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