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At biome-scale, terrestrial carbon uptake is controlled mainly by weather variability. Observational data from a global monitoring network indicate that the sensitivity of terrestrial carbon sequestration to mean annual temperature (T) breaks down at a threshold value of 16°C, above which terrestrial CO2 fluxes are controlled by dryness rather than temperature. Here we show that since 1948 warming climate has moved the 16°C T latitudinal belt poleward. Land surface area with T > 16°C and now subject to dryness control rather than temperature as the regulator of carbon uptake has increased by 6% and is expected to increase by at least another 8% by 2050. Most of the land area subjected to this warming is arid or semiarid with ecosystems that are highly vulnerable to drought and land degradation. In areas now dryness-controlled, net carbon uptake is ~27% lower than in areas in which both temperature and dryness (T < 16°C) regulate plant productivity. This warming-induced extension of dryness-controlled areas may be triggering a positive feedback accelerating global warming. Continued increases in land area with T > 16°C has implications not only for positive feedback on climate change, but also for ecosystem integrity and land cover, particularly for pastoral populations in marginal lands.


This work was originally published in Scientific Reports, available at doi:10.1038/srep05472.



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