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High-latitude northern ecosystems are experiencing rapid climate changes, and represent a large potential climate feedback because of their high soil carbon densities and shifting disturbance regimes. A significant carbon flow from these ecosystems is soil respiration (RS, the flow of carbon dioxide, generated by plant roots and soil fauna, from the soil surface to atmosphere), and any change in the high-latitude carbon cycle might thus be reflected in RSobserved in the field. This study used two variants of a machine-learning algorithm and least squares regression to examine how remotely-sensed canopy greenness (NDVI), climate, and other variables are coupled to annual RS based on 105 observations from 64 circumpolar sites in a global database. The addition of NDVI roughly doubled model performance, with the best-performing models explaining ~62% of observed RS variability. We show that early-summer NDVI from previous years is generally the best single predictor of RS, and is better than current-year temperature or moisture. This implies significant temporal lags between these variables, with multi-year carbon pools exerting large-scale effects. Areas of decreasing RS are spatially correlated with browning boreal forests and warmer temperatures, particularly in western North America. We suggest that total circumpolar RS may have slowed by ~5% over the last decade, depressed by forest stress and mortality, which in turn decrease RS. Arctic tundra may exhibit a significantly different response, but few data are available with which to test this. Combining large-scale remote observations and small-scale field measurements, as done here, has the potential to allow inferences about the temporal and spatial complexity of the large-scale response of northern ecosystems to changing climate.

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Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.