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Siberian carbon sink reduced by forest disturbances

Abstract

Siberian forests are generally thought to have acted as an important carbon sink over recent decades, but exposure to severe droughts and fire disturbances may have impacted their carbon dynamics. Limited available forest inventories mean the carbon balance remains uncertain. Here we analyse annual live and dead above-ground carbon changes derived from low-frequency passive microwave observations from 2010 to 2019. We find that during this period, the carbon balance of Siberian forests was close to neutral, with the forests acting as a small carbon sink of \(+ 0.02_{ + 0.01}^{ + 0.03}\) PgC yr−1. Carbon storage in dead wood increased, but this was largely offset by a decrease in live biomass. Substantial losses of live above-ground carbon are attributed to fire and drought, such as the widespread fires in northern Siberia in 2012 and extreme drought in eastern Siberia in 2015. These live above-ground carbon losses contrast with ‘greening’ trends seen in leaf area index over the same period, a decoupling explained by faster post-disturbance recovery of leaf area than live above-ground carbon. Our study highlights the vulnerability of large forest carbon stores in Siberia to climate-induced disturbances, challenging the persistence of the carbon sink in this region of the globe.

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Fig. 1: Temporal variations in annual AGC and LAI over Siberian forests.
Fig. 2: Spatial patterns of net changes in AGC, CWDC and LAI.
Fig. 3: Interannual variation of AGClive, LAI and hydrological indices for a single 25 km grid cell.
Fig. 4: The responses of AGClive and LAI to wildfire.

Data availability

L-VOD and soil moisture data from this study are freely available from the SMOS-IC website (https://ib.remote-sensing.inrae.fr/). AGCtot, AGClive and CWDC products are freely available from https://doi.org/10.11888/Terre.tpdc.272842. The Saatchi biomass map is available upon request from Dr. S. Saatchi (sasan.s.saatchi@jpl.nasa.gov). Tree species maps are available upon request from D. Schepaschenko (schepd@iiasa.ac.at) or from http://webarchive.iiasa.ac.at/Research/FOR/forest_cdrom/english/for_prod_en.html. Additional data used in the paper are publicly available, with their locations provided in the respective references.

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Acknowledgements

This study is supported in part by research grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant no. 41830648, 42171339), the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (SWU020016) and Innovation Research 2035 Pilot Plan of Southwest University (SWUPilotPlan031). J.-P.W acknowledges funding support from the CNES (Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales, France) TOSCA programme. P.C. acknowledges the support from the European Space Agency (ESA) Climate Change Initiative (CCI) Biomass project (contract no. 4000123662/18/I-NB). P.C. and S.S. have received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement no. 821003 (project 4 C). P.C., A.B., S.S. and J.-P.W acknowledge support from the ESA CCI RECCAP2-A project (ESRIN/4000123002/18/I-NB). Y.Q. and X.X. are supported by research grants from US NSF (OIA-1946093, 1911955) and NASA (GeoCarb contract #80LARC17C0001). Tree species information preparation and pre-processing were financially supported by the Russian Science Foundation (project no. 21-46-07002). The data on dead-wood stock and decomposition rate were collected and processed with support by the State Assignment of V.N. Sukachev Institute of Forest SB RAS no. 0287-2021-0008 (state registration number 121031500339-0). M.B. was funded by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme (grant agreement no. 947757 TOFDRY) and DFF Sapere Aude (grant no. 9064–00049B). C.Y. acknowledges support from the National Science Foundation of China (U20A2090). D.v.W. acknowledges support from Dutch Research Council (NWO) Vici scheme research programme (no. 016.160.324) We also acknowledge that S. Saatchi provided the Saatchi biomass map.

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Authors

Contributions

L.F., J.-P.W and P.C. designed the overall study plan. L.F. prepared the SMOS-IC SM, AGClive, CWDC dataset. D.S. prepared the tree species dataset. D.v.W prepared the stand-replacing fire product. L.F., Y.Q., X. Li, X. Liu and M.W. carried out data processing and analysis. L.F., J.-P.W, P.C., J. Chave, R.F., M.B., S.S., D.S. and L.M. interpreted the results. C.Y., A.B., X. Li, W.Y., F.F., X.X., M.M., J.W., X.C., H.Y. and J. Chen provided comments on the discussion. The manuscript was drafted by L.F., J.-P.W, P.C., J. Chave, R.F., M.B., and S.S. with contributions by all co-authors.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Lei Fan or Jean-Pierre Wigneron.

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Nature Geoscience thanks Wenru Xu and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Primary Handling Editor: Tom Richardson, in collaboration with the Nature Geoscience team.

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Fan, L., Wigneron, JP., Ciais, P. et al. Siberian carbon sink reduced by forest disturbances. Nat. Geosci. 16, 56–62 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-022-01087-x

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