Carbon storage dynamics in vegetation and soil are determined by the balance of carbon influx and turnover. Estimates of these opposing fluxes differ markedly among different empirical datasets and models leading to uncertainty and divergent trends. To trace the origin of such discrepancies through time and across major biomes and climatic regions, we used a model-data fusion framework. The framework emulates carbon cycling and its component processes in a global dynamic ecosystem model, LPJ-GUESS, and preserves the model-simulated pools and fluxes in space and time. Thus, it allows us to replace simulated carbon influx and turnover with estimates derived from empirical data, bringing together the strength of the model in representing processes, with the richness of observational data informing the estimations. The resulting vegetation and soil carbon storage and global land carbon fluxes were compared to independent empirical datasets. Results show model-data agreement comparable to, or even better than, the agreement between independent empirical datasets. This suggests that only marginal improvement in land carbon cycle simulations can be gained from comparisons of models with current-generation datasets on vegetation and soil carbon. Consequently, we recommend that model skill should be assessed relative to reference data uncertainty in future model evaluation studies.
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