Articles | Volume 9, issue 9
Methods for assessment of models
20 Sep 2016
Methods for assessment of models |  | 20 Sep 2016

A new stepwise carbon cycle data assimilation system using multiple data streams to constrain the simulated land surface carbon cycle

Philippe Peylin, Cédric Bacour, Natasha MacBean, Sébastien Leonard, Peter Rayner, Sylvain Kuppel, Ernest Koffi, Abdou Kane, Fabienne Maignan, Frédéric Chevallier, Philippe Ciais, and Pascal Prunet

Abstract. Large uncertainties in land surface models (LSMs) simulations still arise from inaccurate forcing, poor description of land surface heterogeneity (soil and vegetation properties), incorrect model parameter values and incomplete representation of biogeochemical processes. The recent increase in the number and type of carbon cycle-related observations, including both in situ and remote sensing measurements, has opened a new road to optimize model parameters via robust statistical model–data integration techniques, in order to reduce the uncertainties of simulated carbon fluxes and stocks. In this study we present a carbon cycle data assimilation system that assimilates three major data streams, namely the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS)-Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) observations of vegetation activity, net ecosystem exchange (NEE) and latent heat (LE) flux measurements at more than 70 sites (FLUXNET), as well as atmospheric CO2 concentrations at 53 surface stations, in order to optimize the main parameters (around 180 parameters in total) of the Organizing Carbon and Hydrology in Dynamics Ecosystems (ORCHIDEE) LSM (version 1.9.5 used for the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5) simulations). The system relies on a stepwise approach that assimilates each data stream in turn, propagating the information gained on the parameters from one step to the next.

Overall, the ORCHIDEE model is able to achieve a consistent fit to all three data streams, which suggests that current LSMs have reached the level of development to assimilate these observations. The assimilation of MODIS-NDVI (step 1) reduced the growing season length in ORCHIDEE for temperate and boreal ecosystems, thus decreasing the global mean annual gross primary production (GPP). Using FLUXNET data (step 2) led to large improvements in the seasonal cycle of the NEE and LE fluxes for all ecosystems (i.e., increased amplitude for temperate ecosystems). The assimilation of atmospheric CO2, using the general circulation model (GCM) of the Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique (LMDz; step 3), provides an overall constraint (i.e., constraint on large-scale net CO2 fluxes), resulting in an improvement of the fit to the observed atmospheric CO2 growth rate. Thus, the optimized model predicts a land C (carbon) sink of around 2.2 PgC yr−1 (for the 2000–2009 period), which is more compatible with current estimates from the Global Carbon Project (GCP) than the prior value. The consistency of the stepwise approach is evaluated with back-compatibility checks. The final optimized model (after step 3) does not significantly degrade the fit to MODIS-NDVI and FLUXNET data that were assimilated in the first two steps, suggesting that a stepwise approach can be used instead of the more “challenging” implementation of a simultaneous optimization in which all data streams are assimilated together. Most parameters, including the scalar of the initial soil carbon pool size, changed during the optimization with a large error reduction. This work opens new perspectives for better predictions of the land carbon budgets.

Short summary
The study describes a carbon cycle data assimilation system that uses satellite observations of vegetation activity, net ecosystem exchange of carbon and water at many sites and atmospheric CO2 concentrations, in order to optimize the parameters of the ORCHIDEE land surface model. The optimized model is able to fit all three data streams leading to a land carbon uptake similar to independent estimates, which opens new perspectives for better prediction of the land carbon balance.