Global land carbon sink response to temperature and precipitation varies with ENSO phase

Yuanyuan Fang, Anna M. Michalak, Christopher R. Schwalm, Deborah N. Huntzinger, Joseph A. Berry, Philippe Ciais, Shilong Piao, Benjamin Poulter, Joshua B. Fisher, Robert B. Cook, Daniel Hayes, Maoyi Huang, Akihiko Ito, Atul Jain, Huimin Lei, Chaoqun Lu, Jiafu Mao, Nicholas C. Parazoo, Shushi Peng, Daniel M. RicciutoXiaoying Shi, Bo Tao, Hanqin Tian, Weile Wang, Yaxing Wei, Jia Yang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Climate variability associated with the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and its consequent impacts on land carbon sink interannual variability have been used as a basis for investigating carbon cycle responses to climate variability more broadly, and to inform the sensitivity of the tropical carbon budget to climate change. Past studies have presented opposing views about whether temperature or precipitation is the primary factor driving the response of the land carbon sink to ENSO. Here, we show that the dominant driver varies with ENSO phase. Whereas tropical temperature explains sink dynamics following El Niño conditions (r TG,P = 0.59, p < 0.01), the post La Niña sink is driven largely by tropical precipitation (r PG,T =-0.46, p = 0.04). This finding points to an ENSO-phase-dependent interplay between water availability and temperature in controlling the carbon uptake response to climate variations in tropical ecosystems. We further find that none of a suite of ten contemporary terrestrial biosphere models captures these ENSO-phase-dependent responses, highlighting a key uncertainty in modeling climate impacts on the future of the global land carbon sink.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number064007
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017


  • Climate-carbon feedback
  • El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO)
  • precipitation
  • temperature
  • tropical ecosystems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • General Environmental Science
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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