Sensitivity of Holocene atmospheric CO2 and the modern carbon budget to early human land use: analyses with a process-based model

Stocker, B.; Strassmann, K.; Joos, F.
January 2010
Biogeosciences Discussions;2010, Vol. 7 Issue 1, p921
Academic Journal
A Dynamic Global Vegetation model is used as part of a simplified Earth system model to simulate the impact of human land use on Holocene atmospheric CO2 and the contemporary carbon cycle. We show that suggested upward revisions of Holocene land use reconstructions imply a smaller contemporary terrestrial carbon sink and that early agricultural activities did only marginally contribute to the late Holocene CO2 rise of 20 ppm measured on ice cores. Scenarios are used to test the robustness of the results. Simulated changes in atmospheric CO2 due to land use are less than 1 ppm before 0 AD and 22 ppm by 2004 AD when prescribing the HYDE 3.1 land use reconstruction over the past 12 000 years. Cumulative emissions are with 50 GtC by 1850 and 177 GtC by 2004 AD comparable to earlier estimates. In scenario H2, agricultural area from HYDE 3.1 is scaled by a factor of two before 1700 AD, thereby taking into account evidence that land area used per person was higher before than during early industrialisation. Then, the contemporary terrestrial carbon sink, required to close the atmospheric CO2 budget, is reduced by 0.5 GtC yr-1. CO2 changes due to land use change exceed natural interannual variability only after 1000 AD and are less than 4 ppmv until 1850 AD. Simulated CO2 change remains small even in scenarios where average land use per person is unrealistically increased by a factor of 4 to 8 above published estimates. Our results falsify the hypothesis that humans are responsible for the late Holocene CO2 increase and that anthropogenic land use prevented a new ice age.


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