Great Plains Good on Carbon

January 11, 2012 04:54 AM

The Department of the Interior has released the first in a series of regional studies measuring the amount of carbon stored in U.S. ecosystems.

A key finding is that the Great Plains region is currently a "carbon sink," meaning it takes up more carbon than it emits. In addition, the amount of carbon sequestered offsets most of the emissions of nitrous oxide and methane from agriculture in this region.

In other terms, the amount of carbon stored per year in ecosystems within the Great Plains is about 21% the amount of emissions from personal vehicles nationally and 3.6% of total fossil fuel emissions.

"For the first time, we have a comprehensive view of how carbon is cycling through our nation’s ecosystems: sources, sinks and relative residence times in the various biological components," explains U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Director Marcia McNutt. "This study will not only result in better land use decisions but should also advance our fundamental understanding of one of the most important chemical cycles on the planet."

As part of the study, USGS scientists produced current carbon storage estimates and made projections to 2050. Future estimates incorporate Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projections of climate change as well as USGS projections of land use and land cover change. By 2050, the study estimates, carbon stored in the Great Plains region will increase by 29% to 36%, while emissions of nitrous oxide are expected to increase by 7% to 11% and methane levels to change by –1.6% to 16%.

Research conducted by USGS scientists on the carbon cycle and the potential for carbon sequestration was mandated by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

Following the Great Plains study, USGS plans to release studies on the western, eastern, Alaskan and Hawaiian regions. A full national assessment is expected to be completed around 2013.

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