Response of microbial decomposition to spin-up explains CMIP5 soil carbon range until 2100
- 1School of GeoSciences and National Centre for Earth Observation, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
- 2ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science and Climate Change Research Centre University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Abstract. Soil carbon storage simulated by the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) models varies 6-fold for the present day. Here, we confirm earlier work showing that this range already exists at the beginning of the CMIP5 historical simulations. We additionally show that this range is largely determined by the response of microbial decomposition during each model's spin-up procedure from initialization to equilibration. The 6-fold range in soil carbon, once established prior to the beginning of the historical period (and prior to the beginning of a CMIP5 simulation), is then maintained through the present and to 2100 almost unchanged even under a strong business-as-usual emissions scenario. We therefore highlight that a commonly ignored part of CMIP5 analyses – the land surface state achieved through the spin-up procedure – can be important for determining future carbon storage and land surface fluxes. We identify the need to better constrain the outcome of the spin-up procedure as an important step in reducing uncertainty in both projected soil carbon and land surface fluxes in CMIP5 transient simulations.