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An integrated approach to modeling changes in land use, land cover, and disturbance and their impact on ecosystem carbon dynamics: a case study in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California

January 1, 2015

Increased land-use intensity (e.g. clearing of forests for cultivation, urbanization), often results in the loss of ecosystem carbon storage, while changes in productivity resulting from climate change may either help offset or exacerbate losses. However, there are large uncertainties in how land and climate systems will evolve and interact to shape future ecosystem carbon dynamics. To address this we developed the Land Use and Carbon Scenario Simulator (LUCAS) to track changes in land use, land cover, land management, and disturbance, and their impact on ecosystem carbon storage and flux within a scenario-based framework. We have combined a state-and-transition simulation model (STSM) of land change with a stock and flow model of carbon dynamics. Land-change projections downscaled from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Special Report on Emission Scenarios (SRES) were used to drive changes within the STSM, while the Integrated Biosphere Simulator (IBIS) ecosystem model was used to derive input parameters for the carbon stock and flow model. The model was applied to the Sierra Nevada Mountains ecoregion in California, USA, a region prone to large wildfires and a forestry sector projected to intensify over the next century. Three scenario simulations were conducted, including a calibration scenario, a climate-change scenario, and an integrated climate- and land-change scenario. Based on results from the calibration scenario, the LUCAS age-structured carbon accounting model was able to accurately reproduce results obtained from the process-based biogeochemical model. Under the climate-only scenario, the ecoregion was projected to be a reliable net sink of carbon, however, when land use and disturbance were introduced, the ecoregion switched to become a net source. This research demonstrates how an integrated approach to carbon accounting can be used to evaluate various drivers of ecosystem carbon change in a robust, yet transparent modeling environment.

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