Recent Climate-Driven Increases in Vegetation Productivity for the Western Arctic: Evidence of an Acceleration of the Northern Terrestrial Carbon Cycle

John S. Kimball, University of Montana - Missoula
M. Zhao
A. D. McGuire
Faith Ann Heinsch
J. Clein
M. Calef
William M. Jolly
S. Kang
S. E. Euskirchen
K. C. McDonald
Steven W. Running, University of Montana - Missoula


Northern ecosystems contain much of the global reservoir of terrestrial carbon that is potentially reactive in the context of near-term climate change. Annual variability and recent trends in vegetation productivity across Alaska and northwest Canada were assessed using a satellite remote sensing–based production efficiency model and prognostic simulations of the terrestrial carbon cycle from the Terrestrial Ecosystem Model (TEM) and BIOME–BGC (BioGeoChemical Cycles) model. Evidence of a small, but widespread, positive trend in vegetation gross and net primary production (GPP and NPP) is found for the region from 1982 to 2000, coinciding with summer warming of more than 1.8°C and subsequent relaxation of cold temperature constraints to plant growth. Prognostic model simulation results were generally consistent with the remote sensing record and also indicated that an increase in soil decomposition and plant-available nitrogen with regional warming was partially responsible for the positive productivity response. Despite a positive trend in litter inputs to the soil organic carbon pool, the model results showed evidence of a decline in less labile soil organic carbon, which represents approximately 75% of total carbon storage for the region. These results indicate that the regional carbon cycle may accelerate under a warming climate by increasing the fraction of total carbon storage in vegetation biomass and more rapid turnover of the terrestrial carbon reservoir.