Biophysical consequences of photosynthetic temperature acclimation for climate

Nicholas G. Smith, Danica Lombardozzi, Ahmed Tawfik, Gordon Bonan, Jeffrey S. Dukes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Photosynthetic temperature acclimation is a commonly observed process that is increasingly being incorporated into Earth System Models (ESMs). While short-term acclimation has been shown to increase carbon storage in the future, it is uncertain whether acclimation will directly influence simulated future climate through biophysical mechanisms. Here, we used coupled atmosphere-biosphere simulations using the Community Earth System Model (CESM) to assess how acclimation-induced changes in photosynthesis influence global climate under present-day and future (RCP 8.5) conditions. We ran four 30 year simulations that differed only in sea surface temperatures and atmospheric CO2 (present or future) and whether a mechanism for photosynthetic temperature acclimation was included (yes or no). Acclimation increased future photosynthesis and, consequently, the proportion of energy returned to the atmosphere as latent heat, resulting in reduced surface air temperatures in areas and seasons where acclimation caused the biggest increase in photosynthesis. However, this was partially offset by temperature increases elsewhere, resulting in a small, but significant, global cooling of 0.05°C in the future, similar to that expected from acclimation-induced increases in future land carbon storage found in previous studies. In the present-day simulations, the photosynthetic response was not as strong and cooling in highly vegetated regions was less than warming elsewhere, leading to a net global increase in temperatures of 0.04°C. Precipitation responses were variable and rates did not change globally in either time period. These results, combined with carbon-cycle effects, suggest that models without acclimation may be overestimating positive feedbacks between climate and the land surface in the future.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)536-547
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Advances in Modeling Earth Systems
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017


  • climate change
  • coupled model
  • latent heat
  • precipitation
  • sensible heat
  • stomatal conductance


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