Constraining biospheric carbon dioxide fluxes by combined top-down and bottom-up approaches

Samuel Upton*, Markus Reichstein, Fabian Gans, Wouter Peters, Basil Kraft, Ana Bastos

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


While the growth rate of atmospheric CO2 mole fractions can be measured with high accuracy, there are still large uncertainties in its attribution to specific regions and diverse anthropogenic and natural sources and sinks. A major source of uncertainty is the net flux of carbon dioxide from the biosphere to the atmosphere, the net ecosystem exchange (NEE). There are two major approaches to quantifying NEE: top-down approaches that typically use atmospheric inversions and bottom-up estimates that rely on process-based or data-driven models or inventories. Both top-down and bottom-up approaches have known strengths and limitations. Atmospheric inversions (e.g., those used in global carbon budgets) produce estimates of NEE that are consistent with the atmospheric CO2 growth rate at regional and global scales but are highly uncertain at smaller scales. Bottom-up data-driven models based on eddy-covariance measurements (e.g., FLUXCOM) match local observations of NEE and their spatial variability but have difficulty in accurately upscaling to a reliable global estimate. In this study, we propose combining the two approaches to produce global NEE estimates, with the goal of capitalizing on each approach's strengths and mitigating their limitations. We do this by constraining the data-driven FLUXCOM model with regional estimates of NEE derived from an ensemble of atmospheric inversions from the Global Carbon Budget 2021. To do this, we need to overcome a series of scientific and technical challenges when combining information about diverse physical variables, which are influenced by different processes at different spatial and temporal scales. We design a modeling structure that optimizes NEE by considering both the model's performance at the in situ level, based on eddy-covariance measurements, and at the level of large regions, based on atmospheric inversion estimates of NEE and their uncertainty. This resulting "dual-constraint"data-driven flux model improves on information based on single constraints (either top down or bottom up), producing robust locally resolved and globally consistent NEE spatio-temporal fields. Compared to reference estimates of the global land sink from the literature, e.g., Global Carbon Budgets, our double-constraint inferred global NEE shows a considerably smaller bias in global and tropical NEE compared to the underlying bottom-up data-driven model estimates (i.e., single constraint). The mean seasonality of our double-constraint inferred global NEE is also more consistent with the Global Carbon Budget and atmospheric inversions. At the same time, our model allows for more robustly spatially resolved NEE. The improved performance of the double-constraint model across spatial and temporal scales demonstrates the potential for adding a top-down constraint to a bottom-up data-driven flux model.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2555-2582
Number of pages28
JournalAtmospheric Chemistry and Physics
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2024


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