The Not-So-Big U.S. Carbon Sink

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Science  23 Jul 1999:
Vol. 285, Issue 5427, pp. 544-545
DOI: 10.1126/science.285.5427.544

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Not all anthropogenic carbon emissions remain in the atmosphere, but the size of the terrestrial and oceanic carbon sinks and the mechanisms by which they sequester carbon remain controversial. Field and Fung (page 544) discuss the implications of a study into long-term land use change by Houghton et al. (page 574) for the carbon sink in the United States. Houghton et al. calculate annual changes in the amount of carbon stored in terrestrial ecosystems. The sink, they determine, is much smaller than that found in an earlier study based on atmospheric measurements. Field and Fung discuss possible reasons for the discrepancy and implications for our understanding of carbon sources and sinks.