Comparing the influence of net and gross anthropogenic land-use and land-cover changes on the carbon cycle in the MPI-ESM
Global vegetation models traditionally treat anthropogenic land-use and land-cover changes (LULCCs) only as the changes in vegetation cover seen from one year to the next (net transitions). This approach ignores subgrid-scale processes such as shifting cultivation which do not affect the net vegetation distribution but which have an impact on the carbon budget. The differences in the carbon stocks feed back on processes like wildfires and desert formation. The simulations for the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5) all describe LULCCs using the "Land-Use Harmonization Dataset". Though this dataset describes such subgrid-scale processes (gross transitions), some of the CMIP5 models still use the traditional approach. Using JSBACH/CBALANCE – the land carbon component of the Max Planck Institute Earth System Model (MPI-ESM), this study demonstrates how this potentially leads to a severe underestimation of the carbon emissions from LULCCs Using net transitions lowers the average land-use emissions from 1.44 to 0.90 Pg C yr −1 (38%) during the historical period (1850–2005) – a total lowering by 85 Pg C. The difference between the methods is smaller in the RCP scenarios (2006–2100) but in RCP2.6 and RCP8.5 still cumulates to 30–40 Pg C (on average 0.3–0.4 Pg C yr −1 or 13–25%). In RCP4.5 essentially no difference between the methods is found. Results from models using net transitions are furthermore found to be sensitive to model resolution.