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Highlights in carbon science

Selection of recent new findings and data synthesis that are contributing to the advancement in carbon sciences and the analysis of the carbon-climate-human feedback.

Articles and data

tree silhouette on blue and ornge background Asymmetric effects of daytime and night-time warming on Northern Hemisphere vegetation
forest

Enhanced Seasonal Exchange of CO2 by Northern Ecosystems Since 1960

forest
First Signs of Carbon Sink Saturation in European Forest Biomass
tornado
Climate Extremes and the Carbon Cycle
tropical forest
Variations in Atmospheric CO2 Growth Rates Coupled with Tropical Temperature
There is strong and persistent coupling between interannual variations of the CO2  growth rate and tropical land–surface air temperature during 1959 to 2011, with a 1 °C tropical temperature anomaly leading to a 3.5 ± 0.6 Petagrams of carbon per year (PgC/y) CO2 growth-rate anomaly on average.
graph Attributing the Increase of Atmospheric CO2 to Emitters and Absorbers
Climate change policies need to consider the contribution of each emitting region to the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), which includes both their CO2 emissions and sinks. The study unambiguously attribute the largest share of the historical increase of CO2 between pre-industrial times to developed countries. However, the excess CO2 attributed to developing countries is greater than their share of cumulative CO2 emissions, because a greater fraction of their emissions occurred more recently.
river flowing to the ocean Anthropogenic Perturbation of the Carbon Fluxes from Land to Ocean
A substantial amount of the atmospheric carbon taken up on land through photosynthesis and chemical weathering is transported laterally along the aquatic continuum from upland terrestrial ecosystems to the ocean. We show that anthropogenic perturbation may have increased the flux of carbon to inland waters by as much as 1.0 Pg C yr-1 since pre-industrial times, mainly owing to enhanced carbon export from soils.
permafrost zone Expert Assessment of Vulnerability of Permafrost Carbon
to Climate Change

The overall amount, rate, and form of C released to the atmosphere in a warmer world will influence the strength of the permafrost C feedback to climate change. We used a survey to quantify variability in the perception of the vulnerability of permafrost C to climate change. Experts were asked to provide quantitative estimates of permafrost change in response to four scenarios of warming.
graph Carbon Sink Increases
It is predicted that the Earth has a limited capacity to take up atmospheric CO2 and that when this capacity is reached more CO2 emissions will remain in the atmosphere thus accelerating human-induced warming. Although numerous studies suggest the so-called C sinks on land and in the ocean may becoming limited, we see no evidence of this based on global measurements of atmospheric CO2 and estimates of CO2 emissions.
SOCAT plot The Surface Ocean CO2 Atlas (SOCAT)
SOCAT brings together, in a common format, all publicly available surface water data from the global oceans, including the Arctic, and the coastal seas. All data are evaluated for data quality using methods that are transparent and fully documented on SOCAT website.
forest A Large and Persistent Carbon Sink in the World's Forests
The terrestrial carbon sink is large but its size and location remain uncertain. Using forest inventory data and long-term ecosystem carbon studies, a new study estimates a total forest sink of 2.4±0.4 Pg C yr-1 globally for 1990-2007, - equivalent to one third of current annual fossil fuel emissions.
Peatland

Current and Future CO2 Emissions from Drained Peatlands in Southeast Asia
Tropical peatlands are a large storage of carbon and provide significant sink capacity. Under past and current peat management, drainage is a common practice that has led to enhanced emissions from decomposition of 355- 855 Mt CO2 in 2006, as a reference year.

Methane Hydrates Gas Hydrates: Entrance to a Methane Age or Climate Threat?
Methane hydrates are a potentially vast fossil fuel energy source that could provide up to 10% to 15% of global natural gas production within the next two decades. At the same time, hydrates extraction for energy use and potential hydrate destabilization due to global warming could lead to the release of large emissions further providing an acceleration of climate change.
China Carbon Balance Soil Organic Carbon Pools in the Northern Circumpolar Permafrost Region
The vast amount of carbon stored in the Arctic and boreal regions of the world is more than double that previously estimated, according to a study published this week. The new estimate is over 1.5 trillion tons of frozen carbon, about twice as much carbon as contained in the atmosphere.
China Carbon Balance The Carbon Balance of Terrestrial Ecosystems in China
During the 1980s and 1990s, China showed a net carbon sink of 0.19–0.26 Pg carbon (PgC), which is smaller than that in the conterminous United States but comparable to that in geographic Europe. Northeast China is a net source of CO2 to the atmosphere owing to overharvesting and degradation of forests. By contrast, southern China accounts for more than 65 per cent of the carbon sink, which can be attributed to regional climate change, large-scale plantation programmes and shrub recovery.
Contact authors: ShiLong Piao, Philippe Ciais
Press Release (pdf, 38Kb); Presentation (ppt, 5Mb); Download paper
IBUXI GOSAT Satellite "Ibuki" - Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite (GOSAT)
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency(JAXA) confirmed on 24-1-09 that the Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite "IBUKI" (GOSAT) is now ready for the initial functional verification operation after shifting its attitude control system to the regular mode. The IBUKI was launched at 12:54 p.m. on January 23, 2009 (JST.)
see also http://www.jaxa.jp/projects/sat/gosat/index_e.html
Carboscope inversion map CARBOSCOPE - Global Sources/Sinks
CarboScope is an exploring tool for CO2 and CH4 developed within the framework of the ICOS project. It provides general information on these two greenhouse gases and the scientific methods used to estimate CO2 and CH4 surface fluxes (atmospheric inversion). Carboscope provides a user friendly interface to compare CO2 and CH4 fluxes from different european contributors.
Frozen Sediments in Eastern Siberia

Vulnerability of Permafrost to Climate Change
Thawing permafrost and the resulting microbial decomposition of previously frozen organic carbon is one of the most significant potential feedbacks from terrestrial ecosystems to the atmosphere in a changing climate. Accounting for carbon stored deep in the permafrost more than doubles previous high-latitude inventory estimates.

Plantations Australia

Managing Forests for Climate Change Mitigation
Forests currently absorb billions of tons of CO2 globally every year, an economic subsidy worth nearly half a trillion dollars if an equivalent sink had to be created in other ways. Concerns about the permanency of forest carbon stocks, difficulties in quantifying stock changes, and the threat of environmental and socioeconomic impacts of large-scale reforestation programs have limited the uptake of forestry activities in climate policies.

Autumn Warming

Carbon Sink Capacity in Northern Forests Reduced
The duration of the net carbon uptake period (CUP) in northern ecosystems has on average decreased due to warmer autumn temperatures. Simulations and observations indicate that northern terrestrial ecosystems may currently lose carbon dioxide in response to autumn warming, with a sensitivity of about
0.2 PgC °C-1, offsetting 90% of the increased carbon dioxide uptake during spring.

Coal Dredge CSIRO Accelerating Atmospheric CO2 Growth
This study finds that the recent swift increase in atmospheric CO2 is due to faster economic growth coupled with a halt in carbon intensity reductions, in addition to natural sinks removing a smaller proportion of emissions from the air. Efficiency of natural sinks to remove emissions from human activities has been declining for 50 years.
Industrial Sunset

Drivers of Accelerating CO2 Emissions
A new analysis shows that carbon intensity in the world economy is increasing. While emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) are accelerating worldwide, we are gaining fewer economic benefits from each tonne of fossil fuel burned.

Ocean Wave, British Antarctic Survey

Saturation of the Southern Ocean CO2 Sink
A four-year study by scientists from the University of East Anglia (UEA), British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and the Max-Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry reveals that an increase in winds over the Southern Ocean, caused by greenhouse gases and ozone depletion, has led to a release of stored CO2 into the atmosphere and is preventing further absorption of the greenhouse gas.

Forest Burn Scar Tropical Forests and Climate Policy
A tropical forests and climate policy study in the journal Science highlights the importance of slowing deforestation in tropical countries in the global effort to avert dangerous climate change.

Journal articles

Doney and Schimel (2007) Carbon and Climate System Coupling. Annual Review of Environment and Resources.
Correspondence and requests for materials to Scott C. Doney sdoney @ whoi.edu and David S. Schimel schimel @ ucar.edu
doi:10.1146/annurev.energy.32.041706.124700

"One emergent property is clear across time scales; atmospheric CO2 can increase quickly, but the return to lower levels through natural processes is much slower. The consequences of human carbon cycle perturbations will far outlive the emissions that caused them."

Stitch S, Cox PM, Collins WJ, Huntingford C. (2007)
Indirect radiative forcing of climate change through ozone effects on the land-carbon sink.
Nature. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v448/n7155/full/nature06059.html doi:10.1038/nature06059

The authors estimate the impact of projected changes in ozone levels on the land-carbon sink, using a global land carbon cycle model modified to include the effect of ozone deposition on photosynthesis and to account for interactions between ozone and carbon dioxide through stomatal closure. They suggest that the resulting indirect radiative forcing by ozone effects on plants could contribute more to global warming than the direct radiative forcing due to tropospheric ozone increases.

Stephens et al, (2007) Weak Northern and Strong Tropical Land Carbon Uptake from Vertical Profiles of Atmospheric CO2. Science. Authors homepage http://www.eol.ucar.edu/~stephens/cv.html DOI: 10.1126/science.1137004

Measurements of midday vertical atmospheric CO2 distributions reveal annual-mean vertical CO2 gradients that are inconsistent with atmospheric models that  stimate a large transfer of terrestrial carbon from tropical to northern latitudes. This suggests that northern terrestrial uptake of industrial CO2 emissions plays a smaller role than previously thought and that, after subtracting land-use emissions, tropical ecosystems may currently be strong sinks for CO2.

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