What Limits Predictive Certainty of Long-Term Carbon Uptake?

Brett Raczka, Michael C. Dietze, Shawn P. Serbin, Kenneth J. Davis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Terrestrial biosphere models can help identify physical processes that control carbon dynamics, including land-atmosphere CO 2 fluxes, and have the potential to project the terrestrial ecosystem response to changing climate. It is important to identify ecosystem processes most responsible for model predictive uncertainty and design improved model representation and observational system studies to reduce that uncertainty. Here we identified model parameters that contribute the most uncertainty to long-term (~100 years) projections of net ecosystem exchange, net primary production, and aboveground biomass within a mechanistic terrestrial biosphere model (Ecosystem Demography, version 2.1) ED2. An uncertainty analysis identified parameters that represent the quantum efficiency of light to photosynthetic conversion, leaf respiration and soil-plant water transfer as the highest contributors to model uncertainty regardless of time frame (annual, decadal, and centennial) and output (e.g., net ecosystem exchange, net primary production, aboveground biomass). Contrary to expectations, the contribution of successional processes related to reproduction, competition, and mortality did not increase as the time scale increased. These findings suggest that uncertainty in the parameters governing short-term ecosystem processes remains the most significant bottleneck to reducing predictive uncertainty. Key actions to reduce parameter uncertainty include more leaf-level trait measurements across multiple sites for quantum efficiency and leaf respiration rate. Further, the empirical representation of soil-plant water transfer should be replaced with a mechanistic, hydraulic representation of water flow, which can be constrained with direct measurements. This analysis focused on aboveground ecosystem processes. The impact of belowground carbon cycling, initial conditions, and meteorological forcing should be addressed in future studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3570-3588
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Soil Science
  • Forestry
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Palaeontology
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology


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