Impact of the 2015/2016 El Niño on the terrestrial carbon cycle constrained by bottom-up and top-down approaches

Bastos, Ana; Friedlingstein, Pierre; Sitch, Stephen; Chen, Chi; Mialon, Arnaud; Wigneron, Jean-Pierre; Arora, Vivek K.; Briggs, Peter R.; Canadell, Josep G.; Ciais, Philippe; Chevallier, Frédéric; Cheng, Lei; Delire, Christine; Haverd, Vanessa; Jain, Atul K.; Joos, Fortunat; Kato, Etsushi; Lienert, Sebastian; Lombardozzi, Danica; Melton, Joe R.; ... (2018). Impact of the 2015/2016 El Niño on the terrestrial carbon cycle constrained by bottom-up and top-down approaches. Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society. Series B - biological sciences, 373(1760), p. 20170304. Royal Society of London 10.1098/rstb.2017.0304

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Evaluating the response of the land carbon sink to the anomalies in temperature and drought imposed by El Niño events provides insights into the present-day carbon cycle and its climate-driven variability. It is also a necessary step to build confidence in terrestrial ecosystems models' response to the warming and drying stresses expected in the future over many continents, and particularly in the tropics. Here we present an in-depth analysis of the response of the terrestrial carbon cycle to the 2015/2016 El Niño that imposed extreme warming and dry conditions in the tropics and other sensitive regions. First, we provide a synthesis of the spatio-temporal evolution of anomalies in net land–atmosphere CO₂ fluxes estimated by two in situ measurements based on atmospheric inversions and 16 land-surface models (LSMs) from TRENDYv6. Simulated changes in ecosystem productivity, decomposition rates and fire emissions are also investigated. Inversions and LSMs generally agree on the decrease and subsequent recovery of the land sink in response to the onset, peak and demise of El Niño conditions and point to the decreased strength of the land carbon sink: by 0.4–0.7 PgC yr⁻¹ (inversions) and by 1.0 PgC yr⁻¹ (LSMs) during 2015/2016. LSM simulations indicate that a decrease in productivity, rather than increase in respiration, dominated the net biome productivity anomalies in response to ENSO throughout the tropics, mainly associated with prolonged drought conditions.

This article is part of a discussion meeting issue ‘The impact of the 2015/2016 El Niño on the terrestrial tropical carbon cycle: patterns, mechanisms and implications’.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Physics Institute > Climate and Environmental Physics

UniBE Contributor:

Joos, Fortunat and Lienert, Sebastian


500 Science > 530 Physics




Royal Society of London




Fortunat Joos

Date Deposited:

13 Jun 2019 11:57

Last Modified:

13 Mar 2021 15:46

Publisher DOI:





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