The Role of Carbon Cycle Observations and Knowledge in Carbon Management
Agriculture and industrial development have led to inadvertent changes in the natural carbon cycle. As a consequence, concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have increased in the atmosphere, leading to potential changes in climate. The current challenge facing society is to develop options for future management of the carbon cycle. A variety of approaches has been suggested: direct reduction of emissions, deliberate manipulation of the natural carbon cycle to enhance sequestration, and capture and isolation of carbon from fossil fuel use. Policy development to date has laid out some of the general principles to which carbon management should adhere. These can be summarized as: how much carbon is stored, by what means, and for how long. To successfully manage carbon for climate purposes requires increased understanding of carbon cycle dynamics and improvement to the scientific capabilities available for measurement as well as policy needs. Specific needs for scientific information to underpin carbon cycle management decisions are not yet broadly known. A stronger dialogue between decision makers and scientists must be developed to foster improved application of scientific knowledge to decisions. This paper reviews the current state of knowledge of the carbon cycle and measurement capabilities, with an emphasis on the continental-scale, and its relevance to carbon sequestration goals.