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North America Absorbing Carbon Dioxide At Surprisingly High Rate, Team Reports

Forest Regrowth A Likely Cause, Say Columbia, Princeton, NOAA Researchers

Ecosystems in North America are absorbing carbon dioxide at a rate that is greater than expected, according to findings by a team of scientists from Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Princeton University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The study, which its authors said was subject to confirmation, may mean that land-based carbon-absorbing zones could play a greater role than expected in managing greenhouse warming of the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is one of several gases implicated in greenhouse warming.

The findings of the research team, the Carbon Modeling Consortium (http://www.cmc.princeton.edu), are being published Oct. 16 in the journal Science. The carbon-absorbing zone, known to scientists as a carbon sink, soaked up huge quantities of carbon dioxide during the period studied, 1988 to 1992, confirming earlier studies.

"We know that we who reside in the United States emit about 6.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year," said Taro Takahashi, Doherty Senior Research Scientist, associate director of Lamont-Doherty, Columbia's earth sciences campus in Palisades, N.Y., and an author of the report. "As an air mass travels from west to east, it should receive carbon dioxide and the East Coast concentration of CO2 should be higher than on the West Coast.

"But observations tell us otherwise. The mean atmospheric CO2 concentration on the East Coast has been observed to be lower than that over the Pacific coast. This means that more CO2 is taken up by land ecosystems over the United States than is released by industrial activities."

Team members emphasized that while the North American sink may prove important in worldwide management of atmospheric carbon absorption, their results should not be interprete
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Contact: Faye Yates, Columbia Earth Institute
faye@ldeo.columbia.edu
914-365-8878
Columbia University
16-Oct-1998


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