Climate Science

The American Sink

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Science  03 Dec 2010:
Vol. 330, Issue 6009, pp. 1291
DOI: 10.1126/science.330.6009.1291-b

Understanding how fast the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will rise as we continue to burn fossil fuels depends on how well we know what fraction of emissions is absorbed by the sea and by the terrestrial biosphere. Studies have suggested that North America constituted a terrestrial carbon sink during the past several decades, although how much carbon it has accumulated remains debatable. Crevoisier et al. have now estimated land-atmosphere fluxes across North America during the period from 2004 to 2006 by balancing the inflow and outflow of carbon dioxide from the troposphere, using a simple budgeting approach and vertical profiles of atmospheric carbon dioxide to construct the distribution over the continent in three dimensions. They find that the coterminous United States provided a moderate sink and that the distribution of carbon uptake agrees well with agricultural and climate patterns during that time. Their technique thus also provides a potential independent method to link regional carbon uptake to climate drivers.

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 107, 18348 (2010).

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