Satellite passive microwaves reveal recent climate-induced carbon losses in African drylands

Martin Brandt, Jean Pierre Wigneron, Jerome Chave, Torbern Tagesson, Josep Penuelas, Philippe Ciais, Kjeld Rasmussen, Feng Tian, Cheikh Mbow, Amen Al-Yaari, Nemesio Rodriguez-Fernandez, Guy Schurgers, Wenmin Zhang, Jinfeng Chang, Yann Kerr, Aleixandre Verger, Compton Tucker, Arnaud Mialon, Laura Vang Rasmussen, Lei FanRasmus Fensholt

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    91 Citations (Scopus)


    © 2018 The Author(s). The African continent is facing one of the driest periods in the past three decades as well as continued deforestation. These disturbances threaten vegetation carbon (C) stocks and highlight the need for improved capabilities of monitoring large-scale aboveground carbon stock dynamics. Here we use a satellite dataset based on vegetation optical depth derived from low-frequency passive microwaves (L-VOD) to quantify annual aboveground biomass-carbon changes in sub-Saharan Africa between 2010 and 2016. L-VOD is shown not to saturate over densely vegetated areas. The overall net change in drylands (53% of the land area) was-0.05 petagrams of C per year (Pg C yr-1) associated with drying trends, and a net change of-0.02 Pg C yr-1 was observed in humid areas. These trends reflect a high inter-Annual variability with a very dry year in 2015 (net change,-0.69 Pg C) with about half of the gross losses occurring in drylands. This study demonstrates, first, the applicability of L-VOD to monitor the dynamics of carbon loss and gain due to weather variations, and second, the importance of the highly dynamic and vulnerable carbon pool of dryland savannahs for the global carbon balance, despite the relatively low carbon stock per unit area.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)827-835
    JournalNature Ecology and Evolution
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2018


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