Climate sensitivity controls uncertainty in future terrestrial carbon sink

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • Guy Schurgers
  • Anders Ahlström
  • Almut Arneth
  • Thomas Pugh
  • Benjamin Smith

Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management, University of Copenhagen
  • Department of Earth System Science, School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences, Stanford University
  • Karlsruhe Institute of Technology
  • Department of Physical Geography and Ecosystem Science, Lund University


For the 21st century, carbon cycle models typically project an increase of terrestrial carbon with increasing atmospheric CO2 and a decrease with the accompanying climate change. However, these estimates are poorly constrained, primarily because they typically rely on a limited number of emission and climate scenarios. Here we explore a wide range of combinations of CO2 rise and climate change and assess their likelihood with the climate change responses obtained from climate models. Our results demonstrate that the terrestrial carbon uptake depends critically on the climate sensitivity of individual climate models, representing a large uncertainty of model estimates. In our simulations, the terrestrial biosphere is unlikely to become a strong source of carbon with any likely combination of CO2 and climate change in the absence of land use change, but the fraction of the emissions taken up by the terrestrial biosphere will decrease drastically with higher emissions.


Original languageEnglish
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Early online date23 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - 9 May 2018