Lead Authors:
Sarah R. Cooley, Ocean Conservancy
David J. P. Moore, University of Arizona
Contributing Authors:
Simone R. Alin, NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory
David Butman, University of Washington
David W. Clow, U.S. Geological Survey
Nancy H. F. French, Michigan Technological University
Richard A. Feely, NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory
Zackary I. Johnson, Duke University
Gretchen Keppel-Aleks, University of Michigan
Steven E. Lohrenz, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth
Ilissa B. Ocko, Environmental Defense Fund
Elizabeth H. Shadwick, College of William & Mary
Adrienne J. Sutton, NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory
Christopher S. Potter, NASA Ames Research Center
Yuki Takatsuka, Florida State University
Anthony P. Walker, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Rita M. S. Yu, University of Washington
Science Lead:
Melanie A. Mayes, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Review Editor:
Adam J. Terando, U.S. Geological Survey
Federal Liaisons:
Erica H. Ombres, NOAA Ocean Acidification Program
Kathy Tedesco, NOAA Ocean Observing and Monitoring Division and University Corporation for Atmospheric Research

Biogeochemical Effects of Rising Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide

Climate and rising atmospheric CO2 can alter the amount of carbon taken up or released by ecosystems and the ocean. Rising temperatures influence the response of the carbon cycle to rising CO2 in diverse and complicated ways, yielding both positive and negative feedbacks (Deryng et al., 2016; Dieleman et al., 2012; Holding et al., 2015). Positive feedbacks tend to be additive of the original effect, negative feedbacks tend to counteract the original effect. Overall, rising temperatures tend to release more land and ocean carbon into the atmosphere, while rising CO2 is projected to increase land and ocean uptake (Friedlingstein et al., 2006). However, the importance of this positive feedback is variable according to different locations and time frames. Earth System Model assessments that incorporate carbon cycle feedbacks to projected climate change show that the combined effects of climate change result in an overall larger increase in CO2 concentrations, thus contributing to additional climate warming (a positive feedback). However, this feedback is highly uncertain due to its dependence on various factors, so different studies may report large ranges in predicted CO2 concentrations (Blok et al., 2010; Elberling et al., 2013; Hodgkins et al., 2014; McCalley et al., 2014; Schneider von Deimling et al., 2012; Schuur et al., 2009). Temperature also indirectly influences radiative CO2 effects. For example, increased evaporation from the ocean in a warmer world yields higher atmospheric water vapor concentrations that further amplify the impact of CO2 on climate warming (Myhre et al., 2013). Another chapter in this report presents a broader discussion of the impacts of multiple environmental changes (see Ch. 19: Future of the North American Carbon Cycle).

On land, the direct effect of rising CO2 on plant photosynthesis and growth interacts with rising temperature (Gray et al., 2016; Zhu et al., 2016). Rising CO2 increases the photosynthetic temperature optimum (Long 1991) because of the decreasing relative solubility of CO2 versus oxygen at higher temperatures (Jordan and Ogren 1984). While photosynthesis, respiration, and decomposition sensitivities to temperature act on short timescales of decades, chemical weathering sensitivities act over several hundred thousand years and are largely responsible for moderating CO2 levels throughout the geological record. Rising temperatures affect biogeochemical processes through enhanced NPP, faster microbial decomposition of organic matter and increased emissions of CO2 from microbial respiration in soils, and increased rates of chemical weathering (Galloway et al., 2014). However, interactions between rising CO2 and temperature are complicated by nonuniform warming patterns, and research shows that climate warming can either stimulate or suppress plant productivity depending on the season and region (Xia et al., 2014). In the cryosphere, higher temperatures thaw permafrost and melt ice, processes which release stored CO2 and CH4 back into the atmosphere (Schneider von Deimling et al., 2012).

Chemical weathering of minerals, which consumes CO2 from the atmosphere, provides an important feedback mechanism for CO2 in the carbon cycle (Berner 1992; Colbourn et al., 2015; Kump et al., 2000; see Ch. 12: Soils). Carbon dioxide is found in soils and surficial deposits because of plant and microbial respiration as well as chemical weathering of minerals. Carbonic acid, which is formed naturally when CO2 becomes dissolved into infiltrating rainwater, can dissolve primary minerals, a process that consumes CO2. Also, CaCO3 may precipitate in soils and surficial deposits if concentrations are high enough, a process that may be enhanced by low soil moisture and in semiarid and arid climates (Berner 1992). The rates of mineral reactions depend on several factors, including temperature, pressure, and mineral saturation state, all of which are influenced by climate. As temperatures rise, weathering rates of most minerals increase, leading to greater CO2 consumption (Brady and Carroll 1994; Velbel 1993). Precipitation (e.g., rain and snowmelt) flushes solutes away, lowering the saturation state for primary minerals in solution, thereby promoting higher mineral weathering rates (Clow and Mast 2010; Kump et al., 2000). Thus, greater precipitation would lead to lower mineral saturation states, higher weathering rates, and greater CO2 consumption (Clow and Mast 2010). These feedback mechanisms have the potential to help mitigate the effects of rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations, but their effects will vary spatially and temporally in concert with changes in temperature and precipitation. For example, while the northeastern United States may see relatively strong increases in weathering rates because of increasing temperature and precipitation (IPCC 2013), the Southwest might experience more mixed impacts because of increasing temperature but decreasing precipitation (IPCC 2013).

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