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Severe Long-Lasting Drought Accelerated Carbon Depletion in the Mongolian Plateau


Lu, Chaoqun
Tian, Hanqin
Yu, Zhen
Pan, Shufen
Dangal, Shree
Zhang, Bowen
Yang, Jin
Pederson, Neil
Hessl, Amy


Paleoclimate records identified a severe drought lasting approximately a decade on the Mongolian Plateau during the 2000s, the severity of which was only exceeded by a single drought during the last two millennia. Under high-emission scenarios, arid and semiarid areas are projected to continue to experience a drying trend over the coming decades; therefore, understanding how ecosystems respond to long-lasting drought has global implications. Here we used a process-based ecosystem model to examine the interannual and intra-annual variations in net ecosystem productivity in response to climate extremes across the Mongolian Plateau. We find that the recent-decade drought caused Mongolian terrestrial ecosystems to shift from a carbon (C) sink to a C source, canceling 40% of climate-induced C accumulation over the entire twentieth century. Our study details a shortened C sequestering season, increased summer C source, and accelerated C depletion during the 2000s drought. Plain Language Summary Multiple lines of evidence have shown detrimental effects of drought events on ecosystem production and carbon dynamics, but it remains uncertain how arid and semiarid ecosystems respond to long-lasting drought. Here we reveal that a severe drought during the first decade of the 2000s on the Mongolian Plateau considerably weakened C sequestration capacity and accelerated C depletion. This work has broad implications for understanding impacts of persistent droughts on terrestrial C dynamics as a drying trend, in many arid and semiarid areas, is projected to continue over the coming decades.