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

Ana Bastos, Pierre Friedlingstein, Stephen Sitch, Chi Chen, Arnaud Mialon, Jean Pierre Wigneron, Vivek K. Arora, Peter R. Briggs, Josep G. Canadell, Philippe Ciais, Frédéric Chevallier, Lei Cheng, Christine Delire, Vanessa Haverd, Atul K. Jain, Fortunat Joos, Etsushi Kato, Sebastian Lienert, Danica Lombardozzi, Joe R. MeltonRanga Myneni, Julia E.M.S. Nabel, Julia Pongratz, Benjamin Poulter, Christian Rödenbeck, Roland Séférian, Hanqin Tian, Christel Van Eck, Nicolas Viovy, Nicolas Vuichard, Anthony P. Walker, Andy Wiltshire, Jia Yang, Sönke Zaehle, Ning Zeng, Dan Zhu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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 yr21 (inversions) and by 1.0 PgC yr21 (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’.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20170304
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1760
StatePublished - Nov 19 2018


  • Atmospheric inversions
  • Carbon cycle
  • El Niño/Southern Oscillation
  • Land-surface models

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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