Ecosystem carbon transit versus turnover times in response to climate warming and rising atmospheric CO2 concentration

Published by Stephanie Mayer on

Ecosystem carbon (C) transit time is a critical diagnostic parameter to characterize land C sequestration. This parameter has different variants in the literature, including a commonly used turnover time. However, we know little about how different transit time and turnover time are in representing carbon cycling through multiple compartments under a non-steady state. In this study, we estimate both C turnover time as defined by the conventional stock over flux and mean C transit time as defined by the mean age of C mass leaving the system. We incorporate them into the Community Atmosphere Biosphere Land Exchange (CABLE) model to estimate C turnover time and transit time in response to climate warming and rising atmospheric [CO2]. Modelling analysis shows that both C turnover time and transit time increase with climate warming but decrease with rising atmospheric [CO2]. Warming increases C turnover time by 2.4 years and transit time by 11.8 years in 2100 relative to that at steady state in 1901. During the same period, rising atmospheric [CO2] decreases C turnover time by 3.8 years and transit time by 5.5 years. Our analysis shows that 65% of the increase in global mean C transit time with climate warming results from the depletion of fast-turnover C pool. The remaining 35% increase results from accompanied changes in compartment C age structures. Similarly, the decrease in mean C transit time with rising atmospheric [CO2] results approximately equally from replenishment of C into fast-turnover C pool and subsequent decrease in compartment C age structure. Greatly different from the transit time, the turnover time, which does not account for changes in either C age structure or composition of respired C, underestimated impacts of warming and rising atmospheric [CO2] on C diagnostic time and potentially led to deviations in estimating land C sequestration in multi-compartmental ecosystems.