Asymmetric effects of daytime and night-time warming on Northern Hemisphere vegetation
Faculty of Sciences. Biology
Engineering sciences. Technology
Nature. - London
, p. 88-92
University of Antwerp
Temperature data over the past five decades show faster warming of the global land surface during the night than during the day1. This asymmetric warming is expected to affect carbon assimilation and consumption in plants, because photosynthesis in most plants occurs during daytime and is more sensitive to the maximum daily temperature, Tmax, whereas plant respiration occurs throughout the day2 and is therefore influenced by both Tmax and the minimum daily temperature, Tmin. Most studies of the response of terrestrial ecosystems to climate warming, however, ignore this asymmetric forcing effect on vegetation growth and carbon dioxide (CO2) fluxes3, 4, 5, 6. Here we analyse the interannual covariations of the satellite-derived normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI, an indicator of vegetation greenness) with Tmax and Tmin over the Northern Hemisphere. After removing the correlation between Tmax and Tmin, we find that the partial correlation between Tmax and NDVI is positive in most wet and cool ecosystems over boreal regions, but negative in dry temperate regions. In contrast, the partial correlation between Tmin and NDVI is negative in boreal regions, and exhibits a more complex behaviour in dry temperate regions. We detect similar patterns in terrestrial net CO2 exchange maps obtained from a global atmospheric inversion model. Additional analysis of the long-term atmospheric CO2 concentration record of the station Point Barrow in Alaska suggests that the peak-to-peak amplitude of CO2 increased by 23 ± 11% for a +1 °C anomaly in Tmax from May to September over lands north of 51° N, but decreased by 28 ± 14% for a +1 °C anomaly in Tmin. These lines of evidence suggest that asymmetric diurnal warming, a process that is currently not taken into account in many global carbon cycle models, leads to a divergent response of Northern Hemisphere vegetation growth and carbon sequestration to rising temperatures.