Ground- and aircraft-based measurements show that the seasonal amplitude of Northern Hemisphere atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO 2) concentrations has increased by as much as 50 per cent over the past 50 years. This increase has been linked to changes in temperate, boreal and arctic ecosystem properties and processes such as enhanced photosynthesis, increased heterotrophic respiration, and expansion of woody vegetation. However, the precise causal mechanisms behind the observed changes in atmospheric CO 2 seasonality remain unclear. Here we use production statistics and a carbon accounting model to show that increases in agricultural productivity, which have been largely overlooked in previous investigations, explain as much as a quarter of the observed changes in atmospheric CO 2 seasonality. Specifically, Northern Hemisphere extratropical maize, wheat, rice, and soybean production grew by 240 per cent between 1961 and 2008, thereby increasing the amount of net carbon uptake by croplands during the Northern Hemisphere growing season by 0.33 petagrams. Maize alone accounts for two-thirds of this change, owing mostly to agricultural intensification within concentrated production zones in the midwestern United States and northern China. Maize, wheat, rice, and soybeans account for about 68 per cent of extratropical dry biomass production, so it is likely that the total impact of increased agricultural production exceeds the amount quantified here.
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Acknowledgements This work used eddy covariance data acquired by the FLUXNET community and in particular by the following networks: AmeriFlux (US Department of Energy, Biological and Environmental Research, Terrestrial Carbon Program (DE-FG02-04ER63917 and DE-FG02-04ER63911)), AfriFlux, AsiaFlux, CarboAfrica, CarboEuropeIP, CarboItaly, CarboMont, ChinaFlux, Fluxnet-Canada (supported by CFCAS, NSERC, BIOCAP, Environment Canada, and NRCan), GreenGrass, KoFlux, LBA, NECC, OzFlux, TCOS-Siberia, USCCC. We acknowledge the financial support to the eddy covariance data harmonization provided by CarboEuropeIP, FAO-GTOS-TCO, iLEAPS, Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, National Science Foundation, University of Tuscia, Université Laval and Environment Canada and US Department of Energy and the database development and technical support from Berkeley Water Center, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Microsoft Research eScience, Oak Ridge NationalLaboratory, UniversityofCalifornia-Berkeley,UniversityofVirginia.This work was supported by NASA grant number NNX11AE75G and NSF grant numbers EF-1064614 and NSF EAR-1038818. Research support to D.K.R. was primarily provided by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Institute on Environment at the University of Minnesota. We also acknowledge input and data provided by H. Graven and P. Patra.
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