Articles | Volume 4, issue 2
Research article
 | Highlight paper
16 Sep 2013
Research article | Highlight paper |  | 16 Sep 2013

The impact of nitrogen and phosphorous limitation on the estimated terrestrial carbon balance and warming of land use change over the last 156 yr

Q. Zhang, A. J. Pitman, Y. P. Wang, Y. J. Dai, and P. J. Lawrence

Abstract. We examine the impact of land use and land cover change (LULCC) over the period from 1850 to 2005 using an Earth system model that incorporates nitrogen and phosphorous limitation on the terrestrial carbon cycle. We compare the estimated CO2 emissions and warming from land use change in a carbon-only version of the model with those from simulations, including nitrogen and phosphorous limitation. If we omit nutrients, our results suggest LULCC cools on the global average by about 0.1 °C. Including nutrients reduces this cooling to ~ 0.05 °C. Our results also suggest LULCC has a major impact on total land carbon over the period 1850–2005. In carbon-only simulations, the inclusion of LULCC decreases the total additional land carbon stored in 2005 from around 210 Pg C to 85 Pg C. Including nitrogen and phosphorous limitation also decreases the scale of the terrestrial carbon sink to 80 Pg C. Shown as corresponding fluxes, adding LULCC on top of the nutrient-limited simulations changes the sign of the terrestrial carbon flux from a sink to a source (12 Pg C). The CO2 emission from LULCC from 1850 to 2005 is estimated to be 130 Pg C for carbon only simulation, or 97 Pg C if nutrient limitation is accounted for in our model. The difference between these two estimates of CO2 emissions from LULCC largely results from the weaker response of photosynthesis to increased CO2 and smaller carbon pool sizes, and therefore lower carbon loss from plant and wood product carbon pools under nutrient limitation. We suggest that nutrient limitation should be accounted for in simulating the effects of LULCC on the past climate and on the past and future carbon budget.

Final-revised paper