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Biogeochemistry and climate change research and training network

Final Activity Report Summary - GREENCYCLES (Biogeochemistry and Climate Change Research and Training Network)

The GREENCYCLES Marie Curie Research Training Network ran 2005-2008. The 14 partners came together to address the overall scientific aim of reducing uncertainties concerning future climate change through improved understanding of the role of biological feedbacks on the atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. The network also had the training goal of fostering the education of the next generation of Earth system scientists, and thereby contributing to the structuring of the European Research Area.

Predicting the future behaviour of the climate system necessarily requires complex Earth system models. Our focus was therefore on the parameterisations of biological processes in these models, in particular concerning terrestrial N feedbacks, fire, and controls on the fluxes of methane, biogenic volatile organic compounds, dust, and marine DMS and CO2. All of these processes play a major role in determining the responses of climate to anthropogenic activities. We also engaged in some important data measurement activities, including measurements of CO2 in ice cores, fluxes of methane over northern peatlands, and detection of global fire patterns using remote sensing. The resulting validated tools are now in the process of being used in a wide range of model experiments, and we anticipate a rapid increase in our understanding of climate-biogeochemistry feedbacks in the coming years as a result from this work.

Scientific highlights to date include the mechanistic quantifying of the contribution of anthropogenic N deposition to the historical imbalance in the terrestrial CO2 flux (about 15 %), improved understanding of changes in photosynthesis during prolonged drought in Mediterranean ecosystems, the contribution of land-use related fire to the historical anthropogenic carbon flux, the role of different plankton functional types for marine biogeochemistry, the role of processes leading to dust emissions and the impacts of dust on atmospheric processes, the impacts of human activities on the global relationships between climate and fire, improved quantification of hydrological controls on methane fluxes in peatlands and their importance for the interannual dynamics of atmospheric methane, and the roles of changes in ocean circulation versus terrestrial processes for increasing atmospheric CO2 during the last two periods of deglaciation.

We have also initiated the development of a novel simple Earth system model, designed to integrate all the various strands of GREENCYCLES science into a single tool for investigating the consequences of the various processes studied across the network for future climate. In particular, we can now quantify the contributions of different geographical regions and processes to future feedbacks and the uncertainty due to different process-level parameterisations. The various datasets collected within the project will serve as important validation tools. We have already shown that different, but plausible, representations of terrestrial ecosystem responses to CO2 and temperature result in a wide range of warming by the end of this century (i.e. 3.5-6 degrees Celsius) for the same anthropogenic emissions scenario. Our approach also allows for the consistent inclusion of land use impacts for the first time in a global coupled climate-biogeochemistry model.

Notwithstanding these scientific advances, our most important product is a group of 18 highly skilled and motivated young researchers enthused from the experience of having worked 2-3 years in a cutting edge interdisciplinary research environment focussed on some of the most pressing problems facing humanity. We are very lucky to have been able to select a hugely talented group of Marie Curie Fellows, and are proud to have recruited nine (50 %) female Fellows and nine (50 %) fellows from designated European 'less favoured regions', with four fellows from Eastern Europe. Our network fellows have been able to enjoy membership of world leading research groups and have received, we believe, some of the best training available in European science.

More information concerning the network and its achievements can be found at