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Carbon uptake by temperate forests declining due to global warming

Carbon uptake by temperate forests declining due to warming

Carbon uptake by temperate forests declining due to global warming
January 3, 2008

North American forests are storing less carbon due to warmer autumns, reports a study published in the journal Nature by an international team of researchers.

Shilong Piao and colleagues found that “net carbon uptake of northern ecosystems is decreasing in response to autumnal warming,” according to a statement from the Global Carbon Project, a group involved in the research. Fall temperatures in northern latitudes have risen by about 1.1 C over the past two decades. Spring temperatures have climbed 0.8 C.

Using computer modeling to incorporate forest canopy measurements and remote satellite data into the projections, the researchers found that “while warm spring temperatures accelerate growth more than soil decomposition and enhance carbon uptake, autumn warming greatly increases soil decomposition and significantly reduces carbon uptake.”

Mixed beech forest in the mountains of a warm temperate region in China. Credit: Zhehao Shen

“If warming in autumn occurs at a faster rate than in spring, the ability of northern ecosystems to sequester carbon will diminish in the future,” said Dr. Piao from the Le Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et l’Environnement in France.

“The potentially rapid decline in the future ability of northern terrestrial ecosystems to remove atmospheric carbon dioxide would make stabilization of atmospheric CO2 concentrations much harder than currently predicted,” added Philippe Ciais, a scientist with the Global Carbon Project.

CITATION: “Net carbon dioxide losses of northern ecosystems in response to autumn warming” Shilong Piao, Philippe Ciais, Pierre Friedlingstein, Philippe Peylin, Markus Reichstein, Sebastiaan Luyssaert, Hank Margolis, Jingyun Fang, Alan Barr, Anping Chen, Achim Grelle, David Hollinger, Tuomas Laurila, Anders Lindroth, Andrew D. Richardson & Timo Vesala. Nature, Jan 2., 2008.


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