Carbon Cycle Science

Understanding how the Earth’s terrestrial ecosystems absorb, release and move carbon is critical to our understanding of the climate system and the consequences of human activities for land, oceans and the atmosphere. Carbon cycle science at JGCRI focuses on the terrestrial carbon cycle and human activities that influence the land surface – agriculture, forestry, and other land use changes including urbanization.

Land use change over the past decades and centuries of human activities has, on balance, been a source of anthropogenic emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases.  However, terrestrial ecosystems also take up CO2 and in some regions serve as a sink.  There remains a great deal of uncertainty surrounding not only the present day balance of terrestrial emissions and uptake, but also the future trajectories of land use and land cover change and their contributions to the carbon cycle. JGCRI’s goal in terrestrial carbon cycle research is to reduce uncertainty in how land use and land cover change influence current carbon dynamics and also to better understand how future potential human activities and climate changes may impact the terrestrial carbon cycle. In addition to the topics listed below, the terrestrial carbon cycle is also an important component of research with the GCAM integrated assessment model (link to that page) and also conducts studies of climate change impacts on terrestrial systems (link to that page).

Agriculture and Soils

Better understanding of the role of agricultural ecosystems and soil resources and their role in the global carbon cycle forms a core theme of terrestrial research at JGCRI. Examples of current research activities are:

  • Development and application of process-based models of agricultural and hydrologic systems
  • Research into the potential future role of bioenergy cropping systems, their environmental impacts and sustainability
  • Research and modeling of feedbacks from changes in land and hydrologic systems to regional climate
  • Development of comprehensive inventories of agricultural system carbon sources and sinks for Carbon Monitoring Systems
  • Field and modeling research on carbon cycling in soils in a range of ecosystems

Global Earth System Modeling

Research at JGCRI has also recently led to the development of a new simple climate, carbon cycle and ocean chemistry model with land, ocean and atmospheric components, that is open-source, object oriented and cross platform.  When complete, this new model will be available as a community resource for Earth system research and for use with Integrated Assessment models (link to GCAM page).

Key Staff: Ben Bond-Lamberty, Allison Thomson, Tris West,  Xuesong Zhang

Selected Publications

West TO, ME Brown, RM Duran, S Ogle, and RH Moss.  2013.  “Definition, Capabilities, and Components of a Terrestrial Carbon Monitoring System.”  Carbon Management 4(4):413-422.  doi:10.4155/CMT.13.36

Gelfand I, R Sahajpal, X Zhang, RC Izaurralde, KL Gross, and GP Robertson.  2013.  “Sustainable bioenergy production from marginal lands in the US Midwest.”  Nature 493(7433):514-517.  doi:10.1038/nature11811

Bond-Lamberty B, AG Bunn, and AM Thomson.  2012.  “Multi-Year Lags between Forest Browning and Soil Respiration at High Northern Latitudes.”  PLoS One 7(11):Article No. e50441.  doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0050441

West TO, V Bandaru, CC Brandt, AE Schuh, and SM Ogle. 2011. “Regional Uptake and Release of Crop Carbon in the United States.” Biogeosciences 8(8):2037–2046. doi:10.5194/bg-8-2037-2011

Bond-Lamberty B, and AM Thomson.  2010.  “Temperature-associated increases in the global soil respiration record.”  Nature 464(7288):579-582.  doi:10.1038/nature08930

Bond-Lamberty B, and AM Thomson.  2010.  “A global database of soil respiration data.”  Biogeosciences 7(6):1915-1926. 

Zhang X, RC Izaurralde, DH Manowitz, TO West, WM Post, AM Thomson, VP Bandaru, J Nichols, and JR Williams.  2010.  “An Integrative Modeling Framework to Evaluate the Productivity and Sustainability of Biofuel Crop Production Systems.”  Global Change Biology Bioenergy 2(5):258–277.  doi:10.1111/j.1757-1707.2010.01046.x

Thomson AM, RC Izaurralde, SJ Smith, and LE Clarke.  2008.  “Integrated Estimates of Global Terrestrial Carbon Sequestration.”  Global Environmental Change. Part A, Human and Policy Dimensions 18(1):192-203.