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Anticipating climate change and biospheric feedbacks within the Earth system to 2200

Final Report Summary - GREENCYCLESII (Anticipating climate change and biospheric feedbacks within the Earth system to 2200)

GREENCYCLESII (“GCII”) was an FP7-funded Marie Curie Initial Training Network aimed at fostering the next generation of Earth system scientists and substantially improving current understanding of the impacts of climate-biochemistry feedbacks on the evolution of the Earth System over the next two centuries. GCII brought together leading European research groups from the public and private sectors working on complex Global Climate Models (GCMs), Earth System Models of Intermediate Complexity (EMICs), simple Earth System Models, contemporary and palaeo-observations of Earth system states and behaviour, and studies of key individual processes of importance to the future evolution of the Earth system.

The project was co-ordinated by Dr Andrew Friend, based at the Department of Geography, University of Cambridge (UCAM-DGEOG), UK, and involved a total of 14 European partners from 8 different European countries plus one Associated Partner, Microsoft Research Limited (MSRC), UK.

The overall scientific objectives of the project were (i) the production of a series of key global datasets and their application to the improvement and assessment of a range of global models; (ii) improvement in understanding of critical marine and terrestrial processes; and (iii) rigorous quantitative assessment of possible future Earth system states given the combined constraints of process understanding and global data. These aims have been successfully achieved, with GCII having produced, compiled, and used key global datasets and diverse modelling approaches to greatly improve understanding of the behaviour of the coupled climate-biogeochemical system.

The GCII research work plan consisted of 5 linked work packages : (i) data and benchmarking; (ii) improved constraints on marine processes; (iii) improved constraints on terrestrial processes; (iv) high latitude processes and feedbacks; and (v) coupled modelling. Each work package consisted of a number of specific science tasks designed to be followed by either an Early-Stage Researcher (ESR) or an Experienced Researcher (ER). The primary training objective for the Network was to provide the Fellows with research-based training through immersion in an exciting cutting edge joint research programme.

In total 23 ESRs and 7 ERs were recruited across the Network, with 47% female Fellows. Despite delays in recruitment caused by the difficulty in finding suitably qualified eligible candidates, most objectives, milestones, and deliverables were successfully completed within the time-frame of the overall project. So far we have achieved 73% of the individual task milestones, and most remaining milestones will be completed during 2014. We have been very active in publishing our results in the peer-reviewed literature, and scientific highlights to date include:

• A comprehensive overview of existing data sets for the evaluation and benchmarking of Earth System Models (ESMs) and their components (available as GCII reports and as part of the peer-reviewed article Luo et al., 2012);
• The of five new datasets filling key gaps concerning Earth system dynamics observations: (i) global spatio-temporal dynamics of fire regimes (Lopez et al., in review); (ii) global soil moisture (Kolassa et al., 2013); (iii) net carbon uptake in the Atlantic ocean (Landschuetzer et al., 2013); (iv) a precision record of atmospheric CO2 and its isotopes during glacial-interglacial transitions (Shah et al., in prep.); and (v) a global phytoplankton abundance database (O’Brien et al., 2013; Buitenhuis et al., 2013);
• A synthesis of the current challenges and opportunities in benchmarking ESM components (Dalmonech et al., in review);
• Development of a novel approach to objectively compare ESM projections using multiple data streams (Dalmonech and Zaehle, 2013);
• Measurements of the physiological responses of picophytoplankton to light, temperature, and nutrients (Stawiarski et al., in prep.);
• The definitive evaluation of carbon cycle simulations in the latest IPCC report, AR5 WGI (Anav et al., 2013), and extension of these findings to the evolution of future marine ecosystem stressors (Bopp et al., 2013);
• A major advance in understanding the physiological basis of isoprene emissions from plant leaves and how to model them (Morfopoulos et al., 2013);
• A ground-breaking study published in the journal Nature showing an emergent constraint on carbon loss from tropical ecosystems arising from the year-to-year variation in atmospheric CO2 (Cox et al., 2013);
• Major contributions to IPCC WGII through the Inter-Sectoral Impacts Model Intercomparison Project (ISI-MIP), including leading a high-impact study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Friend et al., 2013);
• A major review and new analyses of the impacts of a diminishing sea-ice extent on Arctic greenhouse gas emissions on land and in the ocean published in Nature Climate Change (Parmentier et al., 2013);
• Major improvements in modeling permafrost carbon dynamics, methane emissions, snowmelt, run-off, inundation, and thermokarst dynamics in Arctic and Boreal environments (Mi et al., in review);
• The establishment of permafrost thawing as the likely source of the initial rise in atmospheric CO2 during deglaciation (Crichton et al., in prep.);
• Establishment of the timescale dependency of the climate-carbon feedback (Willeit et al., in review);
• A major review and set of recommendations concerning the evaluation of ESMs using palaeodata and modern observations (Foley et al., 2013);
• Attribution of the failure of atmospheric methane concentrations to rise in response to high latitude warming during the Eemiann (a prestigious review paper has been solicited by Quaternary Science Reviews, and is currently in preparation as Quiquet et al., in prep.); and
• A study of the costs and benefits of bioenergy production (Vilain et al., in review).

In addition to these scientific outputs, we organised 12 training events, comprising 7 training workshops (on statistics, model testing, remote sensing, EMICs, the physiology of primary production, communication, and nitrogen cycling) and 4 mini-conferences (on high latitude trace gas exchanges, evaluation of ESMs, human land cover impacts, and impacts on marine ecosystems). 133 researchers external to the Network attended our training events, from a total of 58 different institutions across 17 countries. We also ran an additional workshop on biogeochemical feedbacks, 5 Network meetings, a special session at EGU13 dedicated to GCII science, and the very successful GCII Summer School “Feedbacks in the Earth system: the state-of-the-art”, with input from global leaders in the field.

As well as purely scientific outputs, we are producing a number of products aimed at policy makers and journalists, including a briefing paper on the potential importance of biogeochemical feedbacks on climate change (as a Grantham Institute Paper), a POSTnote for the UK Parlimentary Office of Science and Technology, and an update on IPCC science since the latest report.

Our numerous high profile scientific products have considerably advanced understanding of the coupled Earth system, and so will aid society in anticipating, mitigating, and adapting to future environmental change. However, the major impact of our Network will be through the training of a dynamic, highly skilled, and scientifically excellent cohort of young Earth system scientists. We trained a total of 30 young scientists, exposing them to the forefronts of global change research. Moreover, the interdisciplinary nature of the projects and the collaborative nature of the Network will boost European research in Earth system science in the coming decades, particularly through the promotion of close, sustained interactions between experimentalist, observationlists, and modellers.

For additional details see the project website: contact email: