A reconstruction of plants’ productivity and the amount of carbon stored in the ocean and terrestrial biosphere at the last ice age is published today. The research by an international team of scientists greatly increases our understanding of natural carbon cycle dynamics.
A reconstruction of plants’ productivity and the amount of carbon stored in the ocean and terrestrial biosphere at the last ice age is published today.† The research by an international team of scientists greatly increases our understanding of natural carbon cycle dynamics.
Atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) is one of the most important greenhouse gases and the increase of its abundance in the atmosphere by fossil fuel burning is the main cause of future global warming.† In past times, during the transition between an ice age and a warm period, atmospheric CO2 concentrations changed by some 100 parts per million (ppm) - from an ice age value of 180 ppm to about 280 ppm during warm periods.
Scientists can reconstruct these changes in the atmospheric carbon stock using direct measurements of atmospheric CO2 trapped in air bubbles in the depth of Antarctica’s ice sheets.† However explaining the cause of these 100ppm changes in atmospheric CO2 concentrations between glacial and interglacial climate states - as well as estimating the carbon stored on land and in the ocean - is far more difficult.
The researchers, led by Philippe Ciais of the Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et l’Environnement near Paris, ingeniously combined measurements of isotopes of atmospheric oxygen (18O) and carbon (13C) in marine sediments and ice cores with results from dynamic global vegetation models, the latter being driven by estimates of glacial climate using climate models.†
Marko Scholze of the University of Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences , co-author on the paper said: "The difference between glacial and pre-industrial carbon stored in the terrestrial biosphere is only about 330 petagrams of carbon, which is much smaller than previously thought.† The uptake of carbon by vegetation and soil, that is the terrestrial productivity during the ice age, was only about 40 petagrams of carbon per year and thus much smaller: roughly one third of present-day terrestrial productivity and roughly half of pre-industrial productivity."