Carbon–nitrogen coupling under three schemes of model representation: a traceability analysis

Published by Stephanie Mayer on

The interaction between terrestrial carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) cycles has been incorporated into more and more land surface models. However, the scheme of C–N coupling differs greatly among models, and how these diverse representations of C–N interactions will affect C-cycle modeling remains unclear. In this study, we explored how the simulated ecosystem C storage capacity in the terrestrial ecosystem (TECO) model varied with three different commonly used schemes of C–N coupling. The three schemes (SM1, SM2, and SM3) have been used in three different coupled C–N models (i.e., TECO-CN, CLM 4.5, and O-CN, respectively). They differ mainly in the stoichiometry of C and N in vegetation and soils, plant N uptake strategies, downregulation of photosynthesis, and the pathways of N import. We incorporated the three C–N coupling schemes into the C-only version of the TECO model and evaluated their impacts on the C cycle with a traceability framework. Our results showed that all three of the C–N schemes caused significant reductions in steady-state C storage capacity compared with the C-only version with magnitudes of −23 %, −30 %, and −54 % for SM1, SM2, and SM3, respectively. This reduced C storage capacity was mainly derived from the combined effects of decreases in net primary productivity (NPP; −29 %, −15 %, and 45 %) and changes in mean C residence time (MRT; 9 %, −17 %, and −17 %) for SM1, SM2, and SM3, respectively. The differences in NPP are mainly attributed to the different assumptions on plant N uptake, plant tissue C:N ratio, downregulation of photosynthesis, and biological N fixation. In comparison, the alternative representations of the plant vs. microbe competition strategy and the plant N uptake, combined with the flexible C:N ratio in vegetation and soils, led to a notable spread in MRT. These results highlight the fact that the diverse assumptions on N processes represented by different C–N coupled models could cause additional uncertainty for land surface models. Understanding their difference can help us improve the capability of models to predict future biogeochemical cycles of terrestrial ecosystems.