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Asymmetric effects of daytime and night-time warming on Northern Hemisphere vegetation

Shushi Peng, Shilong Piao, Philippe Ciais, Ranga B. Myneni, Anping Chen, Frederic Chevallier, Albertus J. Dolman, Ivan A. Janssens, Josep Penuelas, Gengxin Zhang, Sara Vicca, ShiqiangWan, Shiping Wang & Hui Zeng.

Nature, published online: 4 September 2013
Volume: 501 Pages: 88–92
Date published: 5 September 2013
doi:10.1038/nature12434

Paper Abstract

Temperature data over the past five decades show faster warming of the global land surface during the night than during the day.

This asymmetric warming is expected to affect carbon assimilation and consumption in plants, because photosynthesis in most plants occurs during daytime and is more sensitive to the maximum daily temperature, Tmax, whereas plant respiration occurs throughout the day and is therefore influenced by bothTmax and the minimum daily temperature, Tmin.

Most studies of the response of terrestrial ecosystems to climate warming, however, ignore this asymmetric forcing effect on vegetation growth and carbon dioxide (CO2) fluxes.

Here we analyse the interannual covariations of the satellite-derived normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI, an indicator of vegetation greenness) with Tmax and Tmin over the Northern Hemisphere.

After removing the correlation between Tmax and Tmin, we find that the partial correlation between Tmax and NDVI is positive in most wet and cool ecosystems over boreal regions, but negative in dry temperate regions.

In contrast, the partial correlation between Tmin and NDVI is negative in boreal regions, and exhibits a more complex behaviour in dry temperate regions. We detect similar patterns in terrestrial net CO2 exchange maps obtained from a global atmospheric inversion model.

Additional analysis of the long-term atmospheric CO2 concentration record of the station Point Barrow in Alaska suggests that the peak-to-peak amplitude of CO2 increased by 23 ± 11% for a +1°C anomaly in Tmax from May to September over lands north of 51° N, but decreased by 28 ± 14% for a +1°C anomaly in Tmin.

These lines of evidence suggest that asymmetric diurnal warming, a process that is currently not taken into account in many global carbon cycle models, leads to a divergent response of Northern Hemisphere vegetation growth and carbon sequestration to rising temperatures.

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