Parameter uncertainty dominates C cycle forecast errors over most of Brazil for the 21st Century

T. Luke Smallman, David Milodowski, Eráclito Sousa Neto, Gerbrand Koren, Jean Ometto, Mathew Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Identification of terrestrial carbon (C) sources and sinks is critical for understanding the earth system and to mitigate and adapt to climate change results from greenhouse gas emissions. Predicting whether a given location will act as a C source or sink using terrestrial ecosystem models (TEMs) is challenging due to net flux being the difference between far larger, spatially and temporally variable fluxes with large uncertainties. Uncertainty in projections of future dynamics, critical for policy evaluation, has been determined using multi-TEM intercomparisons, for various emissions scenarios. This approach quantifies structural and forcing errors. However, the role of parameter error within models has not been determined. TEMs typically have defined parameters for specific plant functional types generated from the literature. To ascertain the importance of parameter error in forecasts we present a Bayesian analysis that uses data on historical and current C cycling for Brazil to parameterise five TEMs of varied complexity with a retrieval of model error covariance at 1 degree spatial resolution. After evaluation against data from 2001–2017, the parameterised models are simulated to 2100 under four climate change scenarios spanning the likely range of climate projections. Using multiple models, each with per pixel parameter ensembles, we partition forecast uncertainties. Parameter uncertainty dominates across most of Brazil when simulating future stock changes in biomass C and dead organic matter (DOM). Uncertainty of simulated biomass change is most strongly correlated with net primary productivity allocation to wood (NPPwood) and wood mean residence times (MRTwood). Uncertainty of simulated DOM change is most strongly correlated with MRTsoil and NPPwood. Due to the coupling between these variables and C stock dynamics being bi-directional we argue that using repeat estimates of woody biomass will provide a valuable constraint needed to refine predictions of the future carbon cycle. Finally, evaluation of our multi-model analysis shows that wood litter contributes substantially to fire emissions necessitating a greater understanding of wood litter C-cycling than is typically considered in large-scale TEMs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1191–1237
JournalEarth System Dynamics
Publication statusPublished - 23 Nov 2021


Dive into the research topics of 'Parameter uncertainty dominates C cycle forecast errors over most of Brazil for the 21st Century'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this