Nutrient cycle benchmarks for earth system land model

Friday, December 15, 2017 - 17:30
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Projecting future biosphere-climate feedbacks using Earth system models (ESMs) relies heavily on robust modeling of land surface carbon dynamics. More importantly, soil nutrient (particularly, nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P)) dynamics strongly modulate carbon dynamics, such as plant sequestration of atmospheric CO2. Prevailing ESM land models all consider nitrogen as a potentially limiting nutrient, and several consider phosphorus. However, including nutrient cycle processes in ESM land models potentially introduces large uncertainties that could be identified and addressed by improved observational constraints.

We describe the development of two nutrient cycle benchmarks for ESM land models: (1) nutrient partitioning between plants and soil microbes inferred from 15N and 33P tracers studies and (2) nutrient limitation effects on carbon cycle informed by long-term fertilization experiments. We used these benchmarks to evaluate critical hypotheses regarding nutrient cycling and their representation in ESMs. We found that a mechanistic representation of plant-microbe nutrient competition based on relevant functional traits best reproduced observed plant-microbe nutrient partitioning. We also found that for multiple-nutrient models (i.e., N and P), application of Liebig’s law of the minimum is often inaccurate. Rather, the Multiple Nutrient Limitation (MNL) concept better reproduces observed carbon-nutrient interactions.

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