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Estimating California ecosystem carbon change using process model and land cover disturbance data: 1951-2000

December 31, 2010

Land use change, natural disturbance, and climate change directly alter ecosystem productivity and carbon stock level. The estimation of ecosystem carbon dynamics depends on the quality of land cover change data and the effectiveness of the ecosystem models that represent the vegetation growth processes and disturbance effects. We used the Integrated Biosphere Simulator (IBIS) and a set of 30- to 60-m resolution fire and land cover change data to examine the carbon changes of California's forests, shrublands, and grasslands. Simulation results indicate that during 1951–2000, the net primary productivity (NPP) increased by 7%, from 72.2 to 77.1 Tg C yr−1 (1 teragram = 1012 g), mainly due to CO2 fertilization, since the climate hardly changed during this period. Similarly, heterotrophic respiration increased by 5%, from 69.4 to 73.1 Tg C yr−1, mainly due to increased forest soil carbon and temperature. Net ecosystem production (NEP) was highly variable in the 50-year period but on average equalled 3.0 Tg C yr−1 (total of 149 Tg C). As with NEP, the net biome production (NBP) was also highly variable but averaged −0.55 Tg C yr−1 (total of –27.3 Tg C) because NBP in the 1980s was very low (–5.34 Tg C yr−1). During the study period, a total of 126 Tg carbon were removed by logging and land use change, and 50 Tg carbon were directly removed by wildland fires. For carbon pools, the estimated total living upper canopy (tree) biomass decreased from 928 to 834 Tg C, and the understory (including shrub and grass) biomass increased from 59 to 63 Tg C. Soil carbon and dead biomass carbon increased from 1136 to 1197 Tg C.

Our analyses suggest that both natural and human processes have significant influence on the carbon change in California. During 1951–2000, climate interannual variability was the key driving force for the large interannual changes of ecosystem carbon source and sink at the state level, while logging and fire were the dominant driving forces for carbon balances in several specific ecoregions. From a long-term perspective, CO2fertilization plays a key role in maintaining higher NPP. However, our study shows that the increase in C sequestration by CO2 fertilization is largely offset by logging/land use change and wildland fires.

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