The interaction of climate and land use in future terrestrial carbon storage and release

Allen M. Solomon*, I. Colin Prentice, Rik Leemans, Wolfgang P. Cramer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Citations (Scopus)


The processes controlling total carbon (C) storage and release from the terrestrial biosphere are still poorly quantified. We conclude from analysis of paleodata and climate biome model output that terrestrial C exchanges since the last glacial maximum (LGM) were dominated by slow processes of C sequestration in soils, possibly modified by C starvation and reduced water use efficiency of trees during the LGM. Human intrusion into the C cycle was immeasurably small. These processes produced an averaged C sink in the terrestrial biosphere on the order of 0.05 Pg yr-1 during the past 10,000 years. In contrast, future C cycling will be dominated by human activities, not only from increasing C release with burning of fossil fuels, and but also from indirect effects which increase C storage in the terrestrial biosphere (CO2 fertilization; management of C by technology and afforestation; synchronous early forest succession from widespread cropland abandonment) and decrease C storage in the biosphere (synchronous forest dieback from climatic stress; warming-induced oxidation of soil C; slowed forest succession; unfinished tree life cycles; delayed immigration of trees; increasing agricultural land use). Comparison of the positive and negative C flux processes involved suggests that if the C sequestration processes are important, they likely will be so during the next few decades, gradually being counteracted by the C release processes. Based only on tabulating known or predicted C flux effects of these processes, we could not determine if the earth will act as a significant C source from dominance by natural C cycle processes, or as a C sink made possible only by excellent earth stewardship in the next 50 to 100 yrs. Our subsequent analysis concentrated on recent estimates of C release from forest replacement by increased agriculture. Those results suggest that future agriculture may produce an additional 0.6 to 1.2 Pg yr-1 loss during the 50 to 100 years to CO2 doubling if the current ratio of farmed to potentially-farmed land is maintained; or a greater loss, up to a maximum of 1.4 to 2.8 Pg yr-1 if all potential agricultural land is farmed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)595-614
Number of pages20
JournalWater, Air, & Soil Pollution
Issue number1-4
Publication statusPublished - Oct 1993
Externally publishedYes


Dive into the research topics of 'The interaction of climate and land use in future terrestrial carbon storage and release'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this