Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

ORNL-led team advances science of carbon accounting

07.03.2012
Determining with precision the carbon balance of North America is complicated, but researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have devised a method that considerably advances the science.

In developing their approach, a team led by Daniel Hayes of the Department of Energy's ORNL took advantage of inventory records from the United States, Canada and Mexico that track changes in the amount of carbon in various reservoirs such as plants, soils and wood.

From these data, they made estimates of the current rate of atmospheric carbon dioxide sequestration over North America. This allowed researchers to calculate the state of the science in determining North America's carbon balance.

"Our results highlight both consistencies and mismatches among methods for quantifying sources and sinks of CO2 at sub-national scales and across different sectors such as forest, crop and other lands," Hayes said. "Depending on the approach, estimates suggest that the land-based sink offsets approximately 20 to 50 percent of total continental fossil fuel emissions."

The researchers noted that land and ocean sinks – which are sequestering carbon about equal amounts of carbon globally – are neither permanent nor fixed. Whether they continue to operate is a research question with critical implications. Hayes and colleagues found that much of the current carbon sequestration in North America is associated with the forest sector in the Northwest and Southeast.

"North American land ecosystems are thought to act as a relatively large sink for atmospheric CO2 , but both its current magnitude and response of this sink to future conditions are highly uncertain," Hayes said. The role played by North America is considerable as it may be responsible for up to a third of the combined global land and ocean sink of atmospheric CO2.

That ability to sequester carbon, however, may change given the influences of drought, wildfires and insect outbreaks that lead to carbon losses.

At odds in the carbon balance equation are the two most common assessment approaches – based on either top-down or bottom-up perspectives. From the top-down perspective, atmospheric models typically estimate much greater sink strength than bottom-up, or land ecosystem models. The inventory-based estimate is lower still than the average land model.

Each approach has strengths and weaknesses, and they all have substantial uncertainties. Modeling approaches are the primary tool available for making climate projections, but these rely on a large number of complicated and often poorly understood processes. Models are mainly based on physical, chemical and biological principles whereas inventories can track things like the movement of carbon in food and wood products that are influenced by social and economic factors.

Inventory methods like those used for this study have the benefit of extensive and repeated measurements yet there are many processes thought to be important that go unmeasured.

"You can't measure everything everywhere all of the time, especially in the future," Hayes said, "so we need models to fill in the gaps."

Scientists continue research to address knowledge gaps and uncertainties in each of these approaches.

"Ultimately, confidence in our ability to understand and predict the role of the North America carbon cycle in the global climate system will increase as new estimates from these different approaches begin to more closely converge and are combined in more fully integrated monitoring systems," Hayes said.

While there is still a huge range in estimates of CO2 sources and sinks, this paper, published today in the journal Global Change Biology, represents a major step toward reconciliation of the global carbon cycle. This could be especially relevant to policymakers.

"Efforts to establish atmospheric stabilization targets for CO2 emissions need accurate and reliable estimates of the global carbon budget," Hayes said.

The paper, titled "Reconciling estimates of the contemporary North American carbon balance among terrestrial biosphere models, atmosphere inversions, and a new approach for estimating net ecosystem exchange from inventory-based data," is available here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2486.2011.02627.x/abstract

Co-authors from ORNL are Yaxing Wei, Mac Post and Robert Cook. Other authors include scientists from Oregon State University; the Canadian Forest Service; the U.S. Geological Survey; Pacific Northwest National Laboratory; the USDA Forest Service; El Colegio de la Frontera Sur, Mexico; Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada; and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

This research was supported by multiple sources, including DOE's Office of Science, a Department of Agriculture grant and NASA's New Investigator Program and the Terrestrial Ecology Program. UT-Battelle manages ORNL for DOE's Office of Science, the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. The Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit http://science.energy.gov/

Ron Walli | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.ornl.gov

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Despite government claims, orangutan populations have not increased. Call for better monitoring
06.11.2018 | Deutsches Zentrum für integrative Biodiversitätsforschung (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig

nachricht Increasing frequency of ocean storms could alter kelp forest ecosystems
30.10.2018 | University of Virginia

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A Leap Into Quantum Technology

Faster and secure data communication: This is the goal of a new joint project involving physicists from the University of Würzburg. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the project with 14.8 million euro.

In our digital world data security and secure communication are becoming more and more important. Quantum communication is a promising approach to achieve...

Im Focus: Research icebreaker Polarstern begins the Antarctic season

What does it look like below the ice shelf of the calved massive iceberg A68?

On Saturday, 10 November 2018, the research icebreaker Polarstern will leave its homeport of Bremerhaven, bound for Cape Town, South Africa.

Im Focus: Penn engineers develop ultrathin, ultralight 'nanocardboard'

When choosing materials to make something, trade-offs need to be made between a host of properties, such as thickness, stiffness and weight. Depending on the application in question, finding just the right balance is the difference between success and failure

Now, a team of Penn Engineers has demonstrated a new material they call "nanocardboard," an ultrathin equivalent of corrugated paper cardboard. A square...

Im Focus: Coping with errors in the quantum age

Physicists at ETH Zurich demonstrate how errors that occur during the manipulation of quantum system can be monitored and corrected on the fly

The field of quantum computation has seen tremendous progress in recent years. Bit by bit, quantum devices start to challenge conventional computers, at least...

Im Focus: Nanorobots propel through the eye

Scientists developed specially coated nanometer-sized vehicles that can be actively moved through dense tissue like the vitreous of the eye. So far, the transport of nano-vehicles has only been demonstrated in model systems or biological fluids, but not in real tissue. The work was published in the journal Science Advances and constitutes one step further towards nanorobots becoming minimally-invasive tools for precisely delivering medicine to where it is needed.

Researchers of the “Micro, Nano and Molecular Systems” Lab at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart, together with an international...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

“3rd Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP 2018” Attracts International Experts and Users

09.11.2018 | Event News

On the brain’s ability to find the right direction

06.11.2018 | Event News

European Space Talks: Weltraumschrott – eine Gefahr für die Gesellschaft?

23.10.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

In focus: Peptides, the “little brothers and sisters” of proteins

12.11.2018 | Life Sciences

Materials scientist creates fabric alternative to batteries for wearable devices

12.11.2018 | Materials Sciences

A two-atom quantum duet

12.11.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>