Climate variability associated with the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and its consequent impacts on land carbon sink interannual variability have been used as a basis for investigating carbon cycle responses to climate variability more broadly, and to inform the sensitivity of the tropical carbon budget to climate change. Past studies have presented opposing views about whether temperature or precipitation is the primary factor driving the response of the land carbon sink to ENSO. Here, we show that the dominant driver varies with ENSO phase. Whereas tropical temperature explains sink dynamics following El Niño conditions (r TG,P = 0.59, p < 0.01), the post La Niña sink is driven largely by tropical precipitation (r PG,T = −0.46, p = 0.04). This finding points to an ENSO-phase-dependent interplay between water availability and temperature in controlling the carbon uptake response to climate variations in tropical ecosystems. We further find that none of a suite of ten contemporary terrestrial biosphere models captures these ENSO-phase-dependent responses, highlighting a key uncertainty in modeling climate impacts on the future of the global land carbon sink.

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Published in Environmental Research Letters, v. 12, no. 6, p. 1-10.

© 2017 IOP Publishing Ltd.

Original content from this work may be used under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 licence. Any further distribution of this work must maintain attribution to the author(s) and the title of the work, journal citation and DOI.

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This work was supported by NASA under Grant #NNX14AI54G and by NSF under Grant #1342076. Funding for the MsTMIP activity was provided through NASA Grant #NNX10AG01A. Data management support for preparing, documenting, and distributing model driver and output data was performed by the Modeling and Synthesis Thematic Data Center at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL; http://nacp.ornl.gov), with funding through NASA Grant #NNH10AN681.

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Supplementary material for this article is available online. Finalized MsTMIP data products are archived at the ORNL DAAC (http://daac.ornl.gov).

ERL_12_6_064007_suppdata.pdf (1156 kB)
Supplementary data