Using statistically downscaled future climate scenarios and a version of the biogeochemical model (PnET-BGC) that was modified for use in the alpine tundra, we investigated changes in water, carbon, and nitrogen dynamics under the Representative Concentration Pathways at Niwot Ridge in Colorado, USA. Our simulations indicate that future hydrology will become more water-limited over the short-term due to the temperature-induced increases in leaf conductance, but remains energy-limited over the longer term because of anticipated future decreases in leaf area and increases in annual precipitation. The seasonal distribution of the water supply will become decoupled from energy inputs due to advanced snowmelt, causing soil moisture stress to plants during the growing season. Decreases in summer soil moisture are projected to not only affect leaf production, but also reduce decomposition of soil organic matter in summer despite increasing temperature. Advanced future snowmelt in spring and increasing rain to snow ratio in fall are projected to increase soil moisture and decomposition of soil organic matter. The extended growing season is projected to increase carbon sequestration by 2% under the high radiative forcing scenario, despite a 31% reduction in leaf display due to the soil moisture stress. Our analyses demonstrate that future nitrogen uptake by alpine plants is regulated by nitrogen supply from mineralization, but plant nitrogen demand may also affect plant uptake under the warmer scenario. PnET-BGC simulations also suggest that potential CO2 effects on alpine plants are projected to cause larger increases in plant carbon storage than leaf and root production.
- Alpine tundra
- Biogeochemical modeling
- Budyko curve
- Representative concentration pathways