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Research article2023Peer reviewedOpen access

A decrease in the age of respired carbon from the terrestrial biosphere and increase in the asymmetry of its distribution

Sierra, Carlos A.; Quetin, Gregory R.; Metzler, Holger; Müller, Markus


We provide here a model-based estimate of the transit time of carbon through the terrestrial biosphere, since the time of carbon uptake through photosynthesis until its release through respiration. We explored the consequences of increasing productivity versus increasing respiration rates on the transit time distribution and found that while higher respiration rates induced by higher temperature increase the transit time because older carbon is respired, increases in productivity cause a decline in transit times because more young carbon is available to supply increased metabolism. The combined effect of increases in temperature and productivity results in a decrease in transit times, with the productivity effect dominating over the respiration effect. By using an ensemble of simulation trajectories from the Carbon Data Model Framework (CARDAMOM), we obtained time-dependent transit time distributions incorporating the twentieth century global change. In these simulations, transit time declined over the twentieth century, suggesting an increased productivity effect that augmented the amount of respired young carbon, but also increasing the release of old carbon from high latitudes. The transit time distribution of carbon becomes more asymmetric over time, with more carbon transiting faster through tropical and temperate regions, and older carbon being respired from high latitude regions.This article is part of the Theo Murphy meeting issue 'Radiocarbon in the Anthropocene'.


global carbon cycle; radiocarbon; terrestrial ecosystems; land surface models; Earth system dynamics; global biogeochemical cycles

Published in

Philosophical Transactions A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences
2023, Volume: 381, number: 2261, article number: 20220200

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Physical Geography

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