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Geoscientific Model Development An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Discussion papers
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Methods for assessment of models 07 Dec 2018

Methods for assessment of models | 07 Dec 2018

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This discussion paper is a preprint. A revision of the manuscript is under review for the journal Geoscientific Model Development (GMD).

The quasi-equilibrium framework re-visited: analyzing long-term CO2 enrichment responses in plant-soil models

Mingkai Jiang1, Sönke Zaehle2, Martin G. De Kauwe3, Anthony P. Walker4, Silvia Caldararu2, David S. Ellsworth1, and Belinda E. Medlyn1 Mingkai Jiang et al.
  • 1Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, Western Sydney University, Locked Bag 1797, Penrith, NSW 2751, Australia
  • 2Max Planck Institute of Biogeochemistry, Jena, Germany
  • 3ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia
  • 4Environmental Sciences Division and Climate Change Science Institute, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN, 37831, USA

Abstract. Elevated carbon dioxide (CO2) can increase plant growth, but the magnitude of this CO2 fertilization effect is modified by soil nutrient availability. Predicting how nutrient availability affects plant responses to elevated CO2 is a key consideration for ecosystem models, and many modelling groups have moved to, or are moving towards, incorporating nutrient limitation in their models. The choice of assumptions to represent nutrient cycling processes has a major impact on model predictions, but it can be difficult to attribute outcomes to specific assumptions in complex ecosystem simulation models. Here we revisit the quasi-equilibrium (QE) analytical framework introduced by Comins & McMurtrie (1993) and explore the consequences of specific model assumptions for ecosystem net primary productivity. We review the literature applying this framework to plant-soil models, and then examine the effect of several new assumptions on predicted plant responses to elevated CO2. Examination of alternative assumptions for plant nitrogen uptake showed that a linear function of the mineral nitrogen pool or a saturating function of root biomass yield similar CO2 responses over time. In contrast, a saturating function of the mineral nitrogen pool yields no soil nutrient feedback at the very long-term, near-equilibrium timescale, meaning that a full CO2 fertilization effect on production is realized. We show that incorporating a priming effect on slow soil organic matter decomposition attenuates the nutrient feedback effect on production, leading to a strong medium-term CO2 response. Finally, we demonstrate that using a “potential NPP” approach to represent nutrient limitation of growth yields a relatively small CO2 fertilization effect across all timescales. Our results highlight that the QE analytical framework is effective for evaluating both the consequence and the mechanism through which different model assumptions affect predictions. To help constrain predictions of the future terrestrial carbon sink, we recommend use of this framework to analyze likely outcomes of new model assumptions before introducing them to complex model structures.

Mingkai Jiang et al.
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Status: final response (author comments only)
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