Examining the sensitivity of the terrestrial carbon cycle to the expression of El Niño

Lina Teckentrup*, Martin G. De Kauwe, Andrew J. Pitman, Benjamin Smith

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
60 Downloads (Pure)


The El Niño - Southern Oscillation (ENSO) influences the global climate and the variability in the terrestrial carbon cycle on interannual timescales. Two different expressions of El Niño have recently been identified: (i) central Pacific (CP) and (ii) eastern Pacific (EP). Both types of El Niño are characterised by above-average sea surface temperature anomalies at the respective locations. Studies exploring the impact of these expressions of El Niño on the carbon cycle have identified changes in the amplitude of the concentration of interannual atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) variability following increased tropical near-surface air temperature and decreased precipitation. We employ the dynamic global vegetation model LPJ-GUESS (Lund-Potsdam-Jena General Ecosystem Simulator) within a synthetic experimental framework to examine the sensitivity and potential long-term impacts of these two expressions of El Niño on the terrestrial carbon cycle. We manipulated the occurrence of CP and EP events in two climate reanalysis datasets during the latter half of the 20th and early 21st century by replacing all EP with CP and separately all CP with EP El Niño events. We found that the different expressions of El Niño affect interannual variability in the terrestrial carbon cycle. However, the effect on longer timescales was small for both climate reanalysis datasets. We conclude that capturing any future trends in the relative frequency of CP and EP El Niño events may not be critical for robust simulations of the terrestrial carbon cycle.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2181-2203
Number of pages23
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 25 Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research has been supported by the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes (grant no. CE170100023) and the ARC Discovery Grant (grant no. DP190101823).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Author(s).


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