Atmospheric inversions allow us to estimate the terrestrial carbon sink by combining atmospheric observations with atmospheric transport models. However, these inverse estimates remain highly uncertain. Here we quantify uncertainties in simulations of North American atmospheric CO2 concentrations using a probabilistic approach. We demonstrate that uncertainty in fossil fuel emissions is a key factor in the uncertainty surrounding biospheric flux estimates. We show that atmospheric transport uncertainties in state-of-the-art numerical weather models diminish when averaged over time, while uncertainties in large-scale CO2 boundary inflow considerably impair our ability to quantify regional fluxes. Current estimates of the North America land sink that neglect the uncertainties in CO2 boundary inflow and fossil fuel emissions are likely overconfident. Our findings suggest that targeted use of new atmospheric observations and improved quantification of uncertainty components are a promising avenue to improve atmospheric inversions with the goal to refine estimates of biospheric CO2 fluxes on regional and continental scales.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)