Refining terrestrial biosphere feedbacks to climate change through precise characterization of terrestrial vegetation

Spafford, Lynsay (2023) Refining terrestrial biosphere feedbacks to climate change through precise characterization of terrestrial vegetation. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Climate change is primarily driven by the human activities of fossil fuel combustion and land use change, which together result in the emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO₂). The terrestrial biosphere currently absorbs about a third of total anthropogenic CO₂ emissions, mostly through primary production by vegetation. The continued function of vegetation as a CO₂ sink is uncertain, as climate change has the potential to enhance or restrict the carbon uptake capacity of vegetation. Uncertainty in terrestrial vegetation function in the context of climate change, due in part to a lack of precise observations of leaf biochemistry and function with which to develop models, therefore limits the confidence of climate change projections. In its entirety, this thesis examines the potential for more precise observations of leaf function and their integration across a variety of models and observational scales. The first chapter provides an introductory overview of the subsequent four chapters and how each compliments the other. The second chapter demonstrates the role of the terrestrial biosphere in influencing the relationship between temperature change and cumulative CO₂ emissions. The third chapter provides adaptations to current radiative transfer modelling approaches to improve estimations of leaf biochemical constituents. The fourth chapter applies high spatiotemporal resolution observations of leaf phenology, the timing of leaf emergence and senescence, across North America to predict species-specific leaf phenology patterns under various emissions scenarios throughout the 21st century. The fifth chapter provides an approach to detect declines in ecosystem processes such as carbon uptake using observational leaf phenology networks. These chapter results indicate that 1) uncertainty in the land-borne fraction of carbon emissions contributes largely to uncertainty in the relationship between temperature change and emissions, 2) spectral subdomains and prior estimation of leaf structure improves leaf biochemistry estimations, 3) leaf senescence timing may diverge between boreal and temperate species under a high emissions scenario, and 4) declines in vegetational carbon uptake can be accurately detected using quantitative phenocam-based indicators. The fundamental and technical insights provided through this thesis will facilitate more reliable and functionally resolved projections of terrestrial biosphere feedbacks to climate change.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
Item ID: 16003
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (pages 194-267)
Keywords: climate change, feedbacks, terrestrial vegetation, phenology, ecological integrity
Department(s): Science, Faculty of > Environmental Science
Date: May 2023
Date Type: Submission
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Plant ecology; Plant phenology; Climatic changes; Biosphere; Ecological integrity; Vegetation and climate

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