The role of driving factors in historical and projected carbon dynamics of upland ecosystems in Alaska

Ecological Applications
By: , and 

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Abstract

It is important to understand how upland ecosystems of Alaska, which are estimated to occupy 84% of the state (i.e., 1,237,774 km2), are influencing and will influence state‐wide carbon (C) dynamics in the face of ongoing climate change. We coupled fire disturbance and biogeochemical models to assess the relative effects of changing atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), climate, logging and fire regimes on the historical and future C balance of upland ecosystems for the four main Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs) of Alaska. At the end of the historical period (1950–2009) of our analysis, we estimate that upland ecosystems of Alaska store ~50 Pg C (with ~90% of the C in soils), and gained 3.26 Tg C/yr. Three of the LCCs had gains in total ecosystem C storage, while the Northwest Boreal LCC lost C (−6.01 Tg C/yr) because of increases in fire activity. Carbon exports from logging affected only the North Pacific LCC and represented less than 1% of the state's net primary production (NPP). The analysis for the future time period (2010–2099) consisted of six simulations driven by climate outputs from two climate models for three emission scenarios. Across the climate scenarios, total ecosystem C storage increased between 19.5 and 66.3 Tg C/yr, which represents 3.4% to 11.7% increase in Alaska upland's storage. We conducted additional simulations to attribute these responses to environmental changes. This analysis showed that atmospheric CO2 fertilization was the main driver of ecosystem C balance. By comparing future simulations with constant and with increasing atmospheric CO2, we estimated that the sensitivity of NPP was 4.8% per 100 ppmv, but NPP becomes less sensitive to CO2increase throughout the 21st century. Overall, our analyses suggest that the decreasing CO2 sensitivity of NPP and the increasing sensitivity of heterotrophic respiration to air temperature, in addition to the increase in C loss from wildfires weakens the C sink from upland ecosystems of Alaska and will ultimately lead to a source of CO2 to the atmosphere beyond 2100. Therefore, we conclude that the increasing regional C sink we estimate for the 21st century will most likely be transitional.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title The role of driving factors in historical and projected carbon dynamics of upland ecosystems in Alaska
Series title Ecological Applications
DOI 10.1002/eap.1641
Volume 28
Issue 1
Year Published 2018
Language English
Publisher Ecological Society of America
Contributing office(s) Coop Res Unit Seattle
Description 23 p.
First page 5
Last page 27
Country United States
State Alaska