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Theme 2: Processes and Interactions

This theme promotes new research and synthesis to increase our understanding of the controls on natural and human driven sources and sinks of carbon, and the spatially explicit complexities between causes and effects. Emphasis is placed on vulnerable carbon pools and processes that could impact the most atmospheric CO2 growth and climate change.

Vulnerability of Frozen Carbon

Ecosystem responses that cause carbon loss to the atmosphere in a warming climate could greatly accelerate climate change during this century. Potentially vulnerable carbon pools that currently contain hundreds of billion tons of carbon could be destabilized through global warming and land use change. One of the most vulnerable pools soil carbon in permafrost regions. The risk of large losses from this pool is not well known, and is not included in most climate simulations. This activity will quantify the carbon content of the vulnerable pools in permafrost soils and analyze the risk of large releases of carbon from these pools over this century. It will be done through a series of workshop with the co-sponsorship of the International Permafrost Association (IPA) and the WCRP-Climate and the Cryoshhere (CliC). The first workshop is scheduled for 28-30 March 2006 at NCEAS, Santa Barbara, California.

Vulnerability of Carbon in Tropical Peatlands

This activity explores how global warming and land use change can destabilize vulnerable carbon pools stored in tropical peatlands. Destabilization of carbon pools could result in large CO2 and CH4 emissions with the potential for further acceleration of global warming. The activity plans four types of activities: 1) Synthesis of current datasets on carbon content in tropical peatlands; 2) Algorithm development and modeling analyses of plausible carbon emissions under specific scenarios of warming and land use change; 3) Overall assessment and plausible impacts of C emissions from tropical peatlands on climate change; 4) Human adaptive strategies for building resilience. The activity is supported by a workshop series funded by the APN (Japan), GCP, GEC (Malaysia), and CIFOR (Indonesia). First workshop: synthesis of datasets and algorithm development.

Vulnerability of Terrestrial Carbon Sinks to Drought and Fires

Changes in the water cycle (as they are already occurring and predicted by GCMs) affect critical parameters of ecosystem functioning such as soil moisture, atmospheric vapor pressure, soil respiration, and fire frequency, which in turn have important effects on carbon stocks and fluxes. Fully coupled carbon-climate models show how biogeochemical and vegetation structure changes brought about drought and fire can decrease the overall strength of the terrestrial carbon sink. It is being suggested that recent higher intra- and inter-annual variability with more pronounced cycles of wetter periods (with enhanced carbon uptake) and drier periods (with decreased carbon uptake) is resulting in a decline of the terrestrial sinks strength. This activity through a series of workshops and synthesis will explore and foster further research on this issue. This activity is co-sponsored by the Australian Earth System Science-ARC and the Australian Greenhouse Office.

Factoring out natural, direct and indirect human-induced effects on terrestrial carbon fluxes

Over the past few years there has been considerable interest in understanding the capacity we have to partition (or factor out) natural, direct and indirect human-induced effects on terrestrial carbon sinks and sources. The interest has been always a fundamental component of the international carbon research agenda but it was the Marrakesh Accords from the Conferences of the Parties (CoP 11) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that brought the issue to an new dimension and focus.

This activity supports expert groups and synthesis work to better attribute multiple processes to the observed fluxes and to develop methodologies in support of research development and policy applications.

Related information
> Theme 1: Patterns and Variability
> Theme 3: Carbon Management
> Project-Wide High-Level Synthesis