Biospheric feedback effects in a synchronously coupled model of human and Earth systems

by Peter E. Thornton, et al.


Fossil fuel combustion and land-use change are the two largest contributors to industrial-era increases in atmospheric CO 2 concentration1. Projections of these are thus fundamental inputs for coupled Earth system models (ESMs) used to estimate the physical and biological consequences of future climate system forcing2, 3. While historical data sets are available to inform past and current climate analyses4, 5, assessments of future climate change have relied on projections of energy and land use from energy–economic models, constrained by assumptions about future policy, land-use patterns and socio-economic development trajectories6. Here we show that the climatic impacts on land ecosystems drive significant feedbacks in energy, agriculture, land use and carbon cycle projections for the twenty-first century. We find that exposure of human-appropriated land ecosystem productivity to biospheric change results in reductions of land area used for crops; increases in managed forest area and carbon stocks; decreases in global crop prices; and reduction in fossil fuel emissions for a low–mid-range forcing scenario7. The feedbacks between climate-induced biospheric change and human system forcings to the climate system—demonstrated here—are handled inconsistently, or excluded altogether, in the one-way asynchronous coupling of energy–economic models to ESMs used to date1, 8, 9.

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Publication Citation

Nature Climate Change 2017 June 15, 2017
DOI: 10.1038/nclimate3310