Tundra ecosystems observed to be CO2 sources due to differential amplification of the carbon cycle

E. F. Belshe, E. A.G. Schuur, B. M. Bolker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

136 Scopus citations


Are tundra ecosystems currently a carbon source or sink? What is the future trajectory of tundra carbon fluxes in response to climate change? These questions are of global importance because of the vast quantities of organic carbon stored in permafrost soils. In this meta-analysis, we compile 40 years of CO2 flux observations from 54 studies spanning 32 sites across northern high latitudes. Using time-series analysis, we investigated if seasonal or annual CO2 fluxes have changed over time, and whether spatial differences in mean annual temperature could help explain temporal changes in CO2 flux. Growing season net CO2 uptake has definitely increased since the 1990s; the data also suggest (albeit less definitively) an increase in winter CO2 emissions, especially in the last decade. In spite of the uncertainty in the winter trend, we estimate that tundra sites were annual CO2 sources from the mid-1980s until the 2000s, and data from the last 7 years show that tundra continue to emit CO2 annually. CO2 emissions exceed CO2 uptake across the range of temperatures that occur in the tundra biome. Taken together, these data suggest that despite increases in growing season uptake, tundra ecosystems are currently CO2 sources on an annual basis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1307-1315
Number of pages9
JournalEcology Letters
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Carbon flux
  • Climate change
  • Tundra

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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