Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Geological Sciences

First Advisor

James White

Second Advisor

Gifford Miller

Third Advisor

John Miller

Fourth Advisor

Scott Lehman

Fifth Advisor

Jason Neff


Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) continue to rise well into the second decade of the new millennium, in spite of broad-scale human understanding of the impacts of fossil fuel emissions on the earth’s climate. Natural sinks for CO2 that are relevant on human time scales – the world’s oceans and land biosphere – appear to have kept pace with emissions. The continuously increasing strength of the land biosphere sink for CO2 is surpassing expectations given our understanding of the CO2 fertilization and warming effects on the balance between photosynthesis and respiration, especially in the face of ongoing forest degradation.

The climate and carbon cycle links between the atmosphere and land biosphere are not well understood, especially at regional (100 km to 10,000 km) scales. The climate modulating effects of changing plant stomatal conductance in response to temperature and water availability is a key area of uncertainty. Further, the differential response to climate change of C3 and C4 plant functional types is not well known at regional scales.

This work outlines the development of a novel application of atmospheric observations of δ13C of CO2 to investigate the links between climate and water and carbon cycling and the integrated responses of C3 and C4 ecosystems to climate variables. A two-step Bayesian batch inversion for 3-hourly, 1x1º CO2 fluxes (step one), and for 3-hourly 1x1º δ13C of recently assimilated carbon (step two) is created here for the first time, and is used to investigate links between regional climate indicators and changes in δ13C of the biosphere. Results show that predictable responses of regional-scale, integrated plant discrimination to temperature, precipitation and relative humidity anomalies can be recovered from atmospheric signals. Model development, synthetic data simulations to test sensitivity, and results for the year 2010 are presented here.

This dissertation also includes two other applications of atmospheric observations of CO2 and δ13C: 1) a state of the art atmospheric CO2 budgeting exercise to show that global net sinks for CO2 have steadily increased over the last 50 years, and 2) a global investigation of the mechanistic drivers of interannual variability in biosphere discrimination against δ13C.