Reducing Uncertainty in The Biosphere-Atmsophere Exchange of Trace Gases

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A large portion of the anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) are cycled through the terrestrial biosphere. Quantifying the exchange of these gases between the terrestrial biosphere and the atmosphere is critical to constraining their atmospheric budgets now and in the future. These fluxes are governed by biophysical processes like photosynthesis, transpiration, and microbial respiratory processes which are driven by factors like meteorology, disturbance regimes, and long term climate and land cover change. These complex processes occur over a broad range of temporal (seconds to decades) and spatial (millimeters to kilometers) scales, necessitating the application of simplifying models to forecast fluxes at the scales required by climate mitigation and adaptation policymakers.

Over the long history of biophysical research, much progress has been made towards developing appropriate models for the biosphere-atmosphere exchange of GHGs. Many processes are well represented in model frameworks, particularly at the leaf scale. However, some processes remain poorly understood, and models do not perform robustly over coarse spatial scales and long time frames. Indeed, model uncertainty is a major contributor to difficulties in constraining the atmospheric budgets of greenhouse gases.

The central objective of this dissertation is to reduce uncertainty in the quantification and forecasting of the biosphere-atmosphere exchange of greenhouse gases by addressing a diverse array of research questions through a combination of five unique field experiments and modeling exercises. In this first chapter, nocturnal evapotranspiration -- a physiological process which had been largely ignored until recent years -- is quantified and modeled in three unique ecosystems co-located in central North Carolina, U.S.A. In the second chapter, more long-term drivers of evapotranspiration are explored by developing and testing theoretical relationships between plant water use and hydraulic architecture that may be readily incorporated into terrestrial ecosystem models. The third chapter builds on this work by linking key parameters of carbon assimilation models to structural and climatic indices that are well-specified over much of the land surface in an effort to improve model parameterization schemes. The fourth chapter directly addresses questions about the interaction between physiological carbon cycling and disturbance regimes in current and future climates, which are generally poorly represented in terrestrial ecosystem models. And the last chapter explores effluxes of methane and nitrous oxide (which are historically understudied) in addition to CO2 exchange in a large temperate wetland ecosystem (which is an historically understudied biome). While these five case studies are somewhat distinct investigations, they all: a) are all grounded in the principles of biophysics, b) rely on similar measurement and mathematical modeling techniques, and c) are conducted under the governing objective of reducing measurement and model uncertainty in the biosphere-atmosphere exchange of greenhouse gases.






Novick, Kimberly Ann (2010). Reducing Uncertainty in The Biosphere-Atmsophere Exchange of Trace Gases. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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