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Background Information for Users

Carbon sequestration in ecosystems is defined for this Viewer application as: "The net uptake of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere for persistent storage in sinks of terrestrial vegetation or soil pools."

Carbon Cycle
The Global Carbon Cycle (Drawing: After Michael J. Pidwirny, Dept. of Geography, Okanagan University College)

Efforts have been underway in the U.S. and elsewhere to develop systems of carbon "credit trading," in which, for instance, industrial emitters of CO2 may pay other entities, such as the owners of reforested land, for enhancements that result in net carbon sequestration to help mitigate the impacts of the industrial greenhouse gas emissions.

Therefore, accurate estimates of how much carbon various types of ecosystems can absorb or have absorbed, and how variable large-scale carbon sink or source fluxes are from year to year, are fundamental to a successful system of carbon credit trading. Land areas that consistently sequester carbon by growth in net ecosystem production are potentially important as future sinks for industrial CO2 emissions. Conversely, land areas that do not consistently sequester carbon over time may be adding to already increasing atmospheric CO2 from fossil fuel burning sources.

Carbon management in forest and agricultural lands of the United States is the responsibility of several Federal agencies (including the U.S. Department of Agriculture USDA and the Department of the Interior DOI), which, along with the Department of the Energy (DOE), have numerous programs in place to collect monitoring data on carbon sequestration at local to national scales. The NASA Ames CQUEST application seeks new and unique partnerships with these Federal agencies and their collaborators to demonstrate integration of research efforts toward verifiable reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Important gaps in our national database of carbon sequestration can be addressed by combining NASA remote sensing technology, ecosystem process modeling, and field-based measurements to characterize land management impacts on the carbon cycle.

Carbon sequestration data displayed by the CASA-CQUEST Viewer are outputs from a computer model that uses satellite remote sensing inputs for the globe at a nominal 8-km resolution. These data in conjunction with the decision support tools will help users determine if they should participate in the voluntary program, and help the program's sponsors verify that sequestration of carbon is occurring.

Users should be aware of the inherent limitations of these model data sets in terms of their spatial and temporal resolution, and the potential uncertainty in simulation model outputs, compared for instance to actual measured carbon amounts derived from field-based surveys or inventories. Users are referred to the publications page for a list of publications that document the CASA computer modeling methods and carbon sequestration results in greater detail.

The unique contributions this viewer application supplies are:

  • National C sequestration inventory toward "entity-wide" accounting.
  • Historical reconstruction of carbon pool baselines for the past 15-20 years.
  • Simulation of future scenarios, e.g., land use change "avoidance" projections.
  • Assessment of past and future climate variability and impacts of uncertainty.
  • "Low intensity" afforestation and recovery of croplands to natural forest cover.
  • Soil carbon changes in C storage.
  • Dead wood changes in C storage.
Users may wish to locate alternative applications and data sources for information on carbon sequestration for topics other than those listed above.

This work is supported by NASA programs for Earth Science Application and Terrestrial Ecology.


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