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Diagnosing destabilization risk in global land carbon sinks


Global net land carbon uptake or net biome production (NBP) has increased during recent decades1. Whether its temporal variability and autocorrelation have changed during this period, however, remains elusive, even though an increase in both could indicate an increased potential for a destabilized carbon sink2,3. Here, we investigate the trends and controls of net terrestrial carbon uptake and its temporal variability and autocorrelation from 1981 to 2018 using two atmospheric-inversion models, the amplitude of the seasonal cycle of atmospheric CO2 concentration derived from nine monitoring stations distributed across the Pacific Ocean and dynamic global vegetation models. We find that annual NBP and its interdecadal variability increased globally whereas temporal autocorrelation decreased. We observe a separation of regions characterized by increasingly variable NBP, associated with warm regions and increasingly variable temperatures, lower and weaker positive trends in NBP and regions where NBP became stronger and less variable. Plant species richness presented a concave-down parabolic spatial relationship with NBP and its variability at the global scale whereas nitrogen deposition generally increased NBP. Increasing temperature and its increasing variability appear as the most important drivers of declining and increasingly variable NBP. Our results show increasing variability of NBP regionally that can be mostly attributed to climate change and that may point to destabilization of the coupled carbon–climate system.

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Fig. 1: Global distribution of NBP, NBPPV and NBPAR1 and their trends from 1981 to 2018.
Fig. 2: Regions with concomitantly increasing NBPPV and NBPAR1 present lower NBP and a lower increase of NBP over time.
Fig. 3: Contribution of biodiversity, N deposition, climate and land use to NBP, NBPPV, NBPAR1 and their trends.

Data availability

Data supporting the findings of this study are available in the following open repositories: CAMS (!/dataset/cams-global-greenhouse-gas-inversion);CarboScope (;and atmospheric CO2 concentration ( from the TRENDY ensembles can be provided on request from Data to perform the statistical analyses, calculations and figures are publicly available at Figshare: data are provided with this paper.

Code availability

Code and data to perform the statistical analyses, calculations and figures are publicly available at Figshare:


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This research was funded by the Spanish Government project PID2019-110521GB-I00, the Fundación Ramón Areces project CIVP20A6621, the Catalan government project SGR2017-1005 and the European Research Council project ERCSyG-2013-610028 IMBALANCE-P. M.F.-M. was supported by a postdoctoral fellowship of the Research Foundation-Flanders (FWO) and by a fellowship from ‘la Caixa’ Foundation (ID 100010434), code LCF/BQ/PI21/11830010. This material is based upon work supported by the National Center for Atmospheric Research, which is a major facility sponsored by the National Science Foundation under Cooperative Agreement No. 1852977. Computing and data storage resources, including the Cheyenne supercomputer (doi:10.5065/D6RX99HX), were provided by the Computational and Information Systems Laboratory (CISL) at NCAR. We acknowledge the Scripps CO2 programme for providing the records of atmospheric CO2.

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M.F.-M., J.P. and I.A.J. planned and designed the research. F.C., C.R., S.S., P.F., V.A., D.G., A.K.J., D.L.L. and P.C.M. provided the data. M.F.-M. analysed the data. All previously mentioned authors, along with P.C., M.O., J.S., S.V. and H.Y., contributed substantially to the writing of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Marcos Fernández-Martínez.

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Fernández-Martínez, M., Peñuelas, J., Chevallier, F. et al. Diagnosing destabilization risk in global land carbon sinks. Nature (2023).

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