, Volume 39, Issue 5–6, pp 402–412 | Cite as

A Carbon Cycle Science Update Since IPCC AR-4

  • A. J. DolmanEmail author
  • G. R. van der Werf
  • M. K. van der Molen
  • G. Ganssen
  • J.-W. Erisman
  • B. Strengers


We review important advances in our understanding of the global carbon cycle since the publication of the IPCC AR4. We conclude that: the anthropogenic emissions of CO2 due to fossil fuel burning have increased up through 2008 at a rate near to the high end of the IPCC emission scenarios; there are contradictory analyses whether an increase in atmospheric fraction, that might indicate a declining sink strength of ocean and/or land, exists; methane emissions are increasing, possibly through enhanced natural emission from northern wetland, methane emissions from dry plants are negligible; old-growth forest take up more carbon than expected from ecological equilibrium reasoning; tropical forest also take up more carbon than previously thought, however, for the global budget to balance, this would imply a smaller uptake in the northern forest; the exchange fluxes between the atmosphere and ocean are increasingly better understood and bottom up and observation-based top down estimates are getting closer to each other; the North Atlantic and Southern ocean take up less CO2, but it is unclear whether this is part of the ‘natural’ decadal scale variability; large-scale fires and droughts, for instance in Amazonia, but also at Northern latitudes, have lead to significant decreases in carbon uptake on annual timescales; the extra uptake of CO2 stimulated by increased N-deposition is, from a greenhouse gas forcing perspective, counterbalanced by the related additional N2O emissions; the amount of carbon stored in permafrost areas appears much (two times) larger than previously thought; preservation of existing marine ecosystems could require a CO2 stabilization as low as 450 ppm; Dynamic Vegetation Models show a wide divergence for future carbon trajectories, uncertainty in the process description, lack of understanding of the CO2 fertilization effect and nitrogen–carbon interaction are major uncertainties.


Global carbon cycle Terrestrial uptake Ocean acidification Carbon budgets Carbon-climate feedback 



AJD and MKvM were partly supported by the EU FP7 project Coordination action Carbon Observation System (COCOS, Grant Agreement number 212196). This article is an outcome of a request from the Dutch Government to provide an update on Climate Science for the Copenhagen COP XV meeting in December 2009. We thank Rob van Dorland and Leo Meijer for agreement to publish this article.


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Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. J. Dolman
    • 1
    Email author
  • G. R. van der Werf
    • 1
  • M. K. van der Molen
    • 1
  • G. Ganssen
    • 1
  • J.-W. Erisman
    • 1
  • B. Strengers
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Earth SciencesVU University AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Netherlands Environmental Assessment AgencyBilthovenThe Netherlands

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