Do US ecosystems balance US fossil fuel use?

Atmospheric carbon dioxide gradients suggest that uptake of carbon dioxide by US forests may balance US fossil fuel use. New model calculations and data, published in Science (17 March 2000) by David Schimel of the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena/Germany and a group of international researchers suggest lower carbon uptake. Carbon dioxide fertilization, once thought to be the only cause of carbon storage, accounted for only a third of the observed total.

The carbon cycle is the main driving force of climate change, and for decades, researchers and policymakers have been concerned because a substantial part of the carbon emitted from fossil fuels remained unaccounted for. Even if only one major process remains unknown, projections of future atmospheric CO2 are highly uncertain. A number of researchers internationally have used gradients of CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere to infer where sources and sinks of carbon dioxide are occurring. One such analysis suggested that North America dominates terrestrial sinks, so that ecosystem uptake actually amost balances North America1s huge fossil fuel emissions.

Researchers led by Prof. David Schimel, Director at the Max-Planck-Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena, with team members from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (USA), Marine Biological Lab (USA), Colorado State University (USA), University of Montana (USA), University of Lund (Sweden), US Forest Service, University of Virginia (USA) and the University of Sheffield (UK) have modeled the ecosystem carbon budget of the US using state-of-the-art data and models. The results from this project called VEMAP, the Vegetation and Ecosystem Modeling and Analysis Project, show that increasing carbon dioxide and climate trends result in small uptake of carbon - only a tenth of what the atmospheric analyses suggest. Analyses of data from forest inventory measurements and other direct data suggest an uptake about thre

Contact: David Schimel

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