Ecology, Climate Change and Related News

Conservation Science for a Healthy Planet

Tag Archive: carbon

  1. Tropical forest carbon sink is disappearing; 69% of loss from smaller scale disturbances such as fires, minor logging

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    • In the world’s tropical forests, small-scale disturbances like fires and minor logging are adding up for a net carbon loss per above ground measurements
    • Researchers found that forests lost more carbon across every continent, with the average loss across the tropics of about 425 million metric tons a year—nearly a tenth of the annual U.S. carbon footprint. Of the total carbon loss, the researchers found that 69 percent came as a result of this smaller-scale degradation and disturbance.
  2. Impacts of land protection on carbon sequestration in coastal California forests and rangelands- UC Berkeley webinar on findings

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    The UC Berkeley team—David Ackerly, Whendee Silver, Patrick Gonzalez, Van Bustic, Maggi Kelly, John Battles, and Allegra Mayer—conducted an end-of-the-project WEBINAR for the Coastal Conservancy’s “Land Acquisition and Ecosystem Carbon” project. We will present our findings on carbon sequestration in forests and rangelands, plus other cool info, AND answer your questions in the 90-minute webinar.

    From the Ackerly Lab website:

    …Over 35 years, the State Coastal Conservancy has undertaken more than 200 projects, protecting 550 parcels that cover almost a half million acres. …. This diversity in geography and land use provides a unique opportunity to assess the impacts of land protection on ecosystem carbon sequestration due to avoided development and land management practices. Legislative mandates to reduce the carbon footprint of the state make such assessments increasingly important as part of conservation planning and project evaluation, and as a component of strategic planning for future SCC acquisitions.

    Assessments of carbon sequestration broadly involve three distinct questions. The first is quantification of standing carbon stocks in any given vegetation type. Above-ground carbon is relatively easy to quantify, via remote-sensing and direct ground surveys. Below-ground carbon stocks, in contrast, require intensive soil sampling for direct measurement and spatial extrapolations that require more simplifying assumptions in the absence of remote sensing information.

    The second question is how carbon stocks change over time, the balance of fluxes in and out of the ecosystem driving these changes, and the influence of land use, resource management, disturbance (especially fire), and vegetation change on these fluxes.

    The third component of carbon assessments is the evaluation of alternative scenarios for dynamics of carbon fluxes under contrasting management or land use, either in the past or future…..direct validation of the projections is not possible except by comparison with other systems in space or time.

    The project was completed in September 2017 and the report will be available later in the year.

    Partners include the Climate Readiness Institute, U.C. Berkeley (David Ackerly Lab), the California Coastal Conservancy, and the National Park Service.

  3. Diversity of large animals plays an important role in carbon cycle

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    • We have to maintain the diversity and abundance of animals, especially mammals, in order to ensure a well-functioning carbon cycle and the retention of carbon in soils
    • To increase carbon sequestration, we have to preserve not only high numbers of animals but also many different species

    October 10, 2017 Stanford University read full ScienceDaily article here

    With abundant data on plants, large animals and their activity, and carbon soil levels in the Amazon, research suggests that large animal diversity influences carbon stocks and contributes to climate change mitigation….

    …”It’s not enough to worry about the trees in the world holding carbon. That’s really important but it’s not the whole story,” said Fragoso. “We also have to worry about maintaining the diversity and abundance of animals, especially mammals at this point, in order to ensure a well-functioning carbon cycle and the retention of carbon in soils.”

    Although scientists have long understood that animals — through ingestion, digestion, breathing and decomposition — are part of the carbon cycle, the work, published Oct. 9 in Nature Ecology and Evolution is the first to suggest the importance of animal biodiversity rather than just animal numbers in the carbon cycle.

    If we want to increase carbon sequestration, we have to preserve not only high numbers of animals but also many different species, the authors said.

    …The researchers found that soil had the highest carbon concentrations where they saw the most vertebrate species. When they looked for a mechanism that could explain this relationship, it turned out that the areas with highest animal diversity had the highest frequency of feeding interactions, such as animals preying on other animals or eating fruit, which results in organic material on and in the ground. The researchers suggest that these meal remnants bump up diversity and abundance of soil microbes, which convert the remains into stored carbon

    Mar Sobral, Kirsten M. Silvius, Han Overman, Luiz F. B. Oliveira, Ted K. Rabb, José M. V. Fragoso. Mammal diversity influences the carbon cycle through trophic interactions in the Amazon. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 2017; DOI: 10.1038/s41559-017-0334-0

  4. Electric Vehicles Expected to Push Oil Demand Down

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    • With China now planning to phase out gas-powered cars, automakers are talking about an all-electric future. It could mean a big drop in emissions.
  5. Climate solution in soil? Soil holds potential to slow global warming, researchers find

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    • Stanford scientists call for a renewed push to gather significantly more data on carbon in the soil and learn more about the role it plays in sequestering carbon
    • They call for an open, shared network for use by farmers, ranchers and other land managers as well as policymakers and organizations that need good data to inform land investments and conservation.
    • Improving how the land is managed could increase soil’s carbon storage enough to offset future carbon emissions from thawing permafrost with possible approaches including reduced tillage, year-round livestock forage, and compost application…planting more perennial crops, instead of annuals, could store more carbon and to reduce erosion by allowing roots to reach deeper into the ground.

    October 5, 2017 Stanford University read full ScienceDaily article here

    If you want to do something about global warming, look under your feet. Managed well, soil’s ability to trap carbon dioxide is potentially much greater than previously estimated, according to Stanford researchers who claim the resource could “significantly” offset increasing global emissions. They call for a reversal of federal cutbacks to related research programs to learn more about this valuable resource.

    The work, published in two overlapping studies Oct. 5 in Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics and Global Change Biology, emphasizes the need for more research into how soil — if managed well — could mitigate a rapidly changing climate.

    Organic matter in soil, such as decomposing plant and animal residues, stores more carbon than do plants and the atmosphere combined. Unfortunately, the carbon in soil has been widely lost or degraded through land use changes and unsustainable forest and agricultural practices, fires, nitrogen deposition and other human activities. The greatest near-term threat comes from thawing permafrost in Earth’s northern reaches, which could release massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.

    Improving how the land is managed could increase soil’s carbon storage enough to offset future carbon emissions from thawing permafrost, the researchers find. Among the possible approaches: reduced tillage, year-round livestock forage and compost application. Planting more perennial crops, instead of annuals, could store more carbon and to reduce erosion by allowing roots to reach deeper into the ground….

    ….”Dirt is not exciting to most people,” said earth system science professor Rob Jackson, lead author of the Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics article and coauthor of the Global Change Biology paper. “But it is a no-risk climate solution with big cobenefits. Fostering soil health protects food security and builds resilience to droughts, floods and urbanization.”

    ….Jackson, Harden and their colleagues call for a renewed push to gather significantly more data on carbon in the soil and learn more about the role it plays in sequestering carbon. They envision an open, shared network for use by farmers, ranchers and other land managers as well as policymakers and organizations that need good data to inform land investments and conservation.

    If we lose momentum on carbon research, it will stifle our momentum for solving both climate and land sustainability problems,” Harden said.

    Robert B. Jackson, Kate Lajtha, Susan E. Crow, Gustaf Hugelius, Marc G. Kramer, Gervasio Piñeiro. The Ecology of Soil Carbon: Pools, Vulnerabilities, and Biotic and Abiotic Controls. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, 2014; 48 (1) DOI: 10.1146/annurev-ecolsys-112414-054234

  6. Carbon feedback from forest soils accelerates global warming

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    • Soil warming stimulates periods of abundant carbon release from the soil to the atmosphere alternating with periods of no detectable loss in soil carbon stores
    • Humans release about 10 billion metric tons (Gt) of carbon into the atmosphere each year and Earth’s soils contain about 3500 billion metric tons (Gt) of carbon which if added to atmosphere could accelerate global warming
    • Over the course of the 26-year experiment (which still continues), the warmed plots lost 17 percent of the carbon that had been stored in organic matter in the top 60 centimeters of soil
    • Study demonstrates value of long term data sets

    October 5, 2017  Marine Biological Laboratory  read full ScienceDaily article here

    After 26 years, the world’s longest-running experiment to discover how warming temperatures affect forest soils has revealed a surprising, cyclical response: Soil warming stimulates periods of abundant carbon release from the soil to the atmosphere alternating with periods of no detectable loss in soil carbon stores. The study indicates that in a warming world, a self-reinforcing and perhaps uncontrollable carbon feedback will occur between forest soils and the climate system, accelerating global warming.

    ….each year, mostly from fossil fuel burning, we are releasing about 10 billion metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere. That’s what’s causing the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration and global warming. The world’s soils contain about 3,500 billion metric tons of carbon. If a significant amount of that soil carbon is added to the atmosphere, due to microbial activity in warmer soils, that will accelerate the global warming process. And once this self-reinforcing feedback begins, there is no easy way to turn it off. There is no switch to flip.”…

    ….”if the microbes in all landscapes respond to warming in the same way as we’ve observed in mid-latitude forest soils, this self-reinforcing feedback phenomenon will go on for a while and we are not going to be able to turn those microbes off. Of special concern is the big pool of easily decomposed carbon that is frozen in Arctic soils. As those [Arctic] soils thaw out, this feedback phenomenon would be an important component of the climate system, with climate change feeding itself in a warming world….”

    Heated and control plots in a long-term soil warming study at Harvard Forest, Petersham, Mass. Jerry Melillo of the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, Mass., and colleagues began the study in 1991.
    Credit: Audrey Barker-Plotkin
    …Melillo and colleagues began this pioneering experiment in 1991 in a deciduous forest stand at the Harvard Forest in Massachusetts. They buried electrical cables in a set of plots and heated the soil 5° C above the ambient temperature of control plots. Over the course of the 26-year experiment (which still continues), the warmed plots lost 17 percent of the carbon that had been stored in organic matter in the top 60 centimeters of soil….
    J. M. Melillo, S. D. Frey, K. M. DeAngelis, W. J. Werner, M. J. Bernard, F. P. Bowles, G. Pold, M. A. Knorr, A. S. Grandy. Long-term pattern and magnitude of soil carbon feedback to the climate system in a warming world. Science, 2017; 358 (6359): 101 DOI: 10.1126/science.aan2874
  7. Six climate change solutions we can all agree on

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    • …people of every political persuasion have shared values to build upon: to feel safe and secure in their homes and communities; …value clean air and water; care about the environment and support energy security; …know that economic growth and national security are essential. Here are six solutions that could help advance these goals…

    September 22, 2017 by Renee Cho, Earth Institute, Columbia University  Read full Phys.org article here

    1- Green Infrastructure: …In urban areas, green infrastructure creates permeable expanses where water can be absorbed instead of flooding the sewers. The vegetation filters out pollutants, helps keep streets cooler, cleans the air, restores biodiversity, sequesters greenhouse gases and increases property values, health, and well-being. Green roofs can reduce demand as well as cooling and heating costs. Restored and created ecosystems such as streams, rivers, and wetlands are considered green infrastructure as well. While they perform the same functions as urban green infrastructure, they also help prevent flooding and recharge aquifer..
    2. Modernization of the grid…The grid needs to be modernized so that it can be smarter, more efficient, and more resilient to extreme weather; it needs to be able to better integrate and be more secure….The nation’s electric grid includes more than 9,200 electricity-generating units and over 600,000 miles of transmission lines. Most of the transmission lines, which were constructed in the 1950s and 1960s and expected to last 50 years, are aging… In 2014, a study by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission revealed that incapacitating just nine key substations could cause a coast–to-coast blackout.

    3. Renewable energy…Over the last decade, the U.S. has generated eight times as much electricity from wind and solar as it did in 2007. Between 2008 and 2015, utility scale solar prices fell 64 percent; rooftop solar prices fell 54 percent, and wind has fallen 41 percent. A report from the Environment New York Research and Policy Center predicts that solar prices will be cheaper than coal by 2025….In 2014, solar power created 50 percent more jobs than oil and gas pipeline construction and petroleum and natural gas extraction combined; and as of 2015, solar energy employed more people than coal mining. Solar job growth has climbed 123 percent over the last six years and is continuing apace. In 2016, 2.5 million Americans worked in “clean tech,” including and energy efficiency technology.
    4. Carbon pricing…fossil fuels are heavily subsidized because the true cost of the impacts resulting from the they generate—extreme heat, drought, floods, and health effects—are paid for by taxpayers, not by the industries that produce the emissions. The International Monetary Fund estimated that globally, fossil fuels are receiving $5.3 trillion of subsidies… The Climate Leadership Council, founded by Republican politicians, business leaders and economists, authored The Conservative Case for Carbon Dividends, a proposal for a revenue neutral tax on carbon. Major international businesses, including General Motors, ExxonMobil, BP, Johnson & Johnson support the idea. Under this proposal, companies would pay a tax of $40 per ton of carbon (resulting in an approximately 36-cent increase per gallon of gas), with the rate rising over time…
    5. Carbon capture and storage…A bipartisan group in Congress is pushing for an extended and enhanced tax credit to encourage the development and utilization of and sequestration.
    6. Energy efficiency…Energy efficiency is the easiest and most cost-effective way to cut energy use and save people money…
  8. Quantifying soil carbon measurement for agricultural soils management: 11 white papers

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    • Regardless of what approach is pursued, reliable and cost effective quantification methods are critical to designing and implementing improved management of soil organic matter including soil organic carbon, and C sequestration policies in the land use sector.
    Together the group, including Point Blue, produced a set of 11 white papers related to soil organic carbon quantification– see here and below.

    Quantifying soil carbon measurement for agricultural soils management: A consensus view from science

    Building a 21st-century soil information platform for US and world soils

    Soil Carbon Accounting – the Australian example

    Integrating soil carbon stocks across point to continental scales

    How do we get the most out of soil data? The opportunities and challenges of developing open soil data

    Measurement of Soil Carbon Stocks

    Meeting local/state/national/international climate change mitigation goals

    Case Study of Soil C Quantification: Alberta GHG Offset System

    EPIC model based search of agronomic strategies for increasing SOC

    Gridded agroecosystem and SOC modeling with EPIC model

    Land Management

    • There is heightened interest in increasing soil organic carbon (SOC) stocks to improve
    performance of working soils especially under drought or other stressors, to increase
    agricultural resilience, fertility and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture.
    • There are many improved management practices that can be and are currently being
    applied to cropland and grazing lands to increase SOC.
    • Farmers and ranchers are decisionmakers who operate in larger contexts that often
    determine or at least bound their agricultural and financial decisions (e.g., crop insurance, input subsidies, etc.). Any effort to value improvements in the performance of agricultural soils through enhanced levels of SOC will require feasible, credible and
    creditable assessment of SOC stocks, which are governed by dynamic and complex soil
    processes and properties.
    • This paper provides expert consensus evaluation of currently accepted methods of
    quantifying SOC that could provide the basis for a modern soil information system.
  9. Urgent emission reductions needed to achieve 1.5°C warming limit; “not yet geophysically impossible” but requires ambitious emissions reductions

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    • limiting the increase in global average temperatures above pre-industrial levels to 1.5°C is not yet geophysically impossible, but likely requires more ambitious emission reductions than those pledged so far
    • Contrary to many other studies, this finds we have more than 700 billion tons left to emit to keep warming within 1.5 degrees Celsius, with a two-thirds probability of success. “That’s about 20 years at present-day emissions
    • From their study: Emission budgets and pathways consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C [abstract below]
      • Assuming emissions peak and decline to below current levels by 2030, and continue thereafter on a much steeper decline, which would be historically unprecedented but consistent with a standard ambitious mitigation scenario (RCP2.6), results in a likely range of peak warming of 1.2–2.0°C above the mid-nineteenth century.
      • limiting warming to 1.5°C is not yet a geophysical impossibility, but is likely to require delivery on strengthened pledges for 2030 followed by challengingly deep and rapid mitigation
    September 18, 2017 University of Oxford read full ScienceDaily article here

    [Scientists] investigated the geophysical likelihood of limiting global warming to “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.”  …the paper concludes that limiting the increase in global average temperatures above pre-industrial levels to 1.5°C, the goal of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, is not yet geophysically impossible, but likely requires more ambitious emission reductions than those pledged so far….

    ….’This paper shows that the Paris goals are within reach, but clarifies what the commitment to ‘pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C’ really implies. Starting with the global review due next year, countries have to get out of coal and strengthen their existing targets so as to keep open the window to the Paris goals. The sooner global emissions start to fall, the lower the risk not only of major climatic disruption, but also of the economic disruption that could otherwise arise from the need for subsequent reductions at historically unprecedented rates, should near-term action remain inadequate.’…

    A group of prominent scientists on Monday created a potential whiplash moment for climate policy, suggesting that humanity could have considerably more time than previously thought to avoid a “dangerous” level of global warming. The upward revision to the planet’s influential “carbon budget” was published by a number of researchers who have been deeply involved in studying the concept, making it all the more unexpected. But other outside researchers raised questions about the work, leaving it unclear whether the new analysis — which, if correct, would have very large implications — will stick.In a study published in the journal Nature Geoscience, a team of 10 researchers, led by Richard Millar of the University of Oxford, recalculated the carbon budget for limiting the Earth’s warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above temperatures seen in the late 19th century. It had been widely assumed that this stringent target would prove unachievable — but the new study would appear to give us much more time to get our act together if we want to stay below it.

    What this paper means is that keeping warming to 1.5 degrees C still remains a geophysical possibility, contrary to quite widespread belief,” Millar said in a news briefing…..

    It is very hard to see how we could still have a substantial CO2 emissions budget left for 1.5 °C, given we’re already at 1 °C, thermal inertia means we’ll catch up with some more warming even without increased radiative forcing, and any CO2 emissions reductions inevitably comes with reduced aerosol load as well, the latter reduction causing some further warming,” Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany said by email.

    …In 2013, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) calculated that humanity could emit about 1,000 more gigatons, or billion tons, of carbon dioxide from 2011 onward if it wanted a good chance of limiting warming to 2 degrees C — launching the highly influential concept of the “carbon budget.”

    The allowable emissions or budget for 1.5 degrees C would, naturally, be lower. One 2015 study found they were 200 billion to 400 billion tons. And we currently emit about 41 billion tons per year, so every three years, more than 100 billion tons are gone. No wonder a recent study put the chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees C at 1 percent. Peters said that according to the prior paradigm, we basically would have used up the carbon budget for 1.5 degrees Celsius by the year 2022.

    That’s what makes the new result so surprising: It finds that we have more than 700 billion tons left to emit to keep warming within 1.5 degrees Celsius, with a two-thirds probability of success. “That’s about 20 years at present-day emissions,” Millar said at the news briefing….

    Richard J. Millar, Jan S. Fuglestvedt, Pierre Friedlingstein, Joeri Rogelj, Michael J. Grubb, H. Damon Matthews, Ragnhild B. Skeie, Piers M. Forster, David J. Frame & Myles R. Allen. Emission budgets and pathways consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C. Nature Geoscience Published online doi:10.1038/ngeo3031

    ABSTRACT: The Paris Agreement has opened debate on whether limiting warming to 1.5°C is compatible with current emission pledges and warming of about 0.9°C from the mid-nineteenth century to the present decade. We show that limiting cumulative post-2015 CO2 emissions to about 200GtC would limit post-2015 warming to less than 0.6°C in 66% of Earth system model members of the CMIP5 ensemble with no mitigation of other climate drivers, increasing to 240GtC with ambitious non-CO2 mitigation. We combine a simple climate–carbon-cycle model with estimated ranges for key climate system properties from the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report. Assuming emissions peak and decline to below current levels by 2030, and continue thereafter on a much steeper decline, which would be historically unprecedented but consistent with a standard ambitious mitigation scenario (RCP2.6), results in a likely range of peak warming of 1.2–2.0°C above the mid-nineteenth century. If CO2 emissions are continuously adjusted over time to limit 2100 warming to 1.5°C, with ambitious non-CO2 mitigation, net future cumulative CO2 emissions are unlikely to prove less than 250GtC and unlikely greater than 540GtC. Hence, limiting warming to 1.5°C is not yet a geophysical impossibility, but is likely to require delivery on strengthened pledges for 2030 followed by challengingly deep and rapid mitigation. Strengthening near-term emissions reductions would hedge against a high climate response or subsequent reduction rates proving economically, technically or politically unfeasible.

  10. The Great Decoupling: the story of energy use, economic growth, and carbon emissions in four charts.

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    July 2017 see article and visualizations at AnthropoceneMagazine here

    …For the past 15 years, global economic growth rose twice as fast as global energy demand and CO2 emissions. The changes have been the most dramatic since 2010. And within the past three years (2014–2016), emissions stabilized—at least temporarily—while the global economy continued growing. That is a first.

    ….Energy efficiency is responsible for most of the decoupling to date. But the transformation to zero carbon fuels must dramatically accelerate to keep up with growing energy demands and increasing world population. Only then will decoupling be complete….