CO2 stabilization, climate change and the terrestrial carbon sink

Andrew White, M. G R Cannell, Andrew D. Friend

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65 Citations (Scopus)


A nonequilibrium, dynamic, global vegetation model, Hybrid v4.1, with a subdaily timestep, was driven by increasing CO2 and transient climate output from the UK Hadley Centre GCM (HadCM2) with simulated daily and interannual variability. Three IPCC emission scenarios were used: (i) IS92a, giving 790 ppm CO2 by 2100, (ii) CO2 stabilization at 750 ppm by 2225, and (iii) CO2 stabilization at 550 ppm by 2150. Land use and future N deposition were not included. In the IS92a scenario, boreal and tropical lands warmed 4.5°C by 2100 with rainfall decreased in parts of the tropics, where temperatures increased over 6 °C in some years and vapour pressure deficits (VPD) doubled. Stabilization at 750 ppm CO2 delayed these changes by about 100 years while stabilization at 550 ppm limited the rise in global land surface temperature to 2.5 °C and lessened the appearance of relatively hot, dry areas in the tropics. Present-day global predictions were 645 PgC in vegetation, 1190 PgC in soils, a mean carbon residence time of 40 years, NPP 47 PgCy-1 and NEP (the terrestrial sink) about 1 PgCy-1, distributed at both high and tropical latitudes. With IS92a emissions, the high latitude sink increased to the year 2100, as forest NPP accelerated and forest vegetation carbon stocks increased. The tropics became a source of CO2 as forest dieback occurred in relatively hot, dry areas in 2060-2080. High VPDs and temperatures reduced NPP in tropical forests, primarily by reducing stomatal conductance and increasing maintenance respiration. Global NEP peaked at 3-4 PgCy-1 in 2020-2050 and then decreased abruptly to near zero by 2100 as the tropical source offset the high-latitude sink. The pattern of change in NEP was similar with CO2 stabilization at 750 ppm, but was delayed by about 100 years and with a less abrupt collapse in global NEP. CO2 stabilization at 550 ppm prevented sustained tropical forest dieback and enabled recovery to occur in favourable years, while maintaining a similar time course of global NEP as occurred with 750 ppm stabilization. By lessening dieback, stabilization increased the fraction of carbon emissions taken up by the land. Comparable studies and other evidence are discussed: climate-induced tropical forest dieback is considered a plausible risk of following an unmitigated emissions scenario.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)817-833
Number of pages17
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2000


  • Carbon
  • Climate change
  • CO 2
  • Ecosystem
  • Sink
  • Tropical forest


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