A method for assessing carbon stocks, carbon sequestration, and greenhouse-gas fluxes in ecosystems of the United States under present conditions and future scenarios

Scientific Investigations Report 2010-5233

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Edited by:
Zhi-Liang Zhu



he Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA), Section 712, mandates the U.S. Department of the Interior to develop a methodology and conduct an assessment of the Nation’s ecosystems, focusing on carbon stocks, carbon sequestration, and emissions of three greenhouse gases (GHGs): carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. The major requirements include (1) an assessment of all ecosystems (terrestrial systems, such as forests, croplands, wetlands, grasslands/shrublands; and aquatic ecosystems, such as rivers, lakes, and estuaries); (2) an estimate of the annual potential capacities of ecosystems to increase carbon sequestration and reduce net GHG emissions in the context of mitigation strategies (including management and restoration activities); and (3) an evaluation of the effects of controlling processes, such as climate change, land-use and land-cover change, and disturbances such as wildfires.

The concepts of ecosystems, carbon pools, and GHG fluxes follow conventional definitions in use by major national and international assessment or inventory efforts. In order to estimate current ecosystem carbon stocks and GHG fluxes and to understand the potential capacity and effects of mitigation strategies, the method will use two time periods for the assessment: 2001 through 2010, which establishes a current ecosystem carbon and GHG baseline and will be used to validate the models; and 2011 through 2050, which will be used to assess potential capacities based on a set of scenarios. The scenario framework will be constructed using storylines of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Emission Scenarios (SRES), along with both reference and enhanced land-use and land-cover (LULC) and land-management parameters. Additional LULC and land-management mitigation scenarios will be constructed for each storyline to increase carbon sequestration and reduce GHG fluxes in ecosystems. Input from regional experts and stakeholders will be solicited to construct these scenarios.

The methods for mapping the current LULC and ecosystem disturbances will require the extensive use of both remote-sensing data and field-survey data (for example, forest inventories) to capture and characterize landscape-changing events. For potential LULC changes and ecosystem disturbances, key drivers such as socioeconomic and climate changes will be used in addition to the biophysical data. The result of these analyses will be a series of maps for each future year for each scenario. These annual maps will form the basis for estimating carbon storage and GHG emissions. For terrestrial ecosystems, carbon storage, carbon-sequestration capacities, and GHG emissions under the present conditions and future scenarios will be assessed using the LULC-change and ecosystem-disturbance estimates in map format with a spatially explicit biogeochemical ensemble modeling system that incorporates properties of management activities (such as tillage or harvesting) and properties of individual ecosystems (such as energy exchange, vegetation characteristics, hydrological cycling, and soil attributes). For aquatic ecosystems, carbon burial in sediments and fluxes of GHG are functions of the present and future potential stream flow and sediment transport and will be assessed using empirical hydrological modeling methods. Validation and uncertainty analysis methods described in the methodology will follow established guidelines to assess the quality of the assessment results.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Level II ecoregions map will be the practical instrument for developing and delivering assessment results. Consequently, the ecoregion (there are 22 modified ecoregions) will be the reporting unit of the assessment because the scenarios, assessment results, validation, and uncertainty analysis will be produced at that scale. The implementation of these methods will require collaborations among various Federal agencies, State agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and the science community. Using the method described in this document, the assessment can be completed in approximately 3 to 4 years. The primary deliverables will be assessment reports containing tables, charts, and maps that will present the estimated GHG parameters annually for 2001 through 2050 by ecosystem, pool, and scenario. The results will permit the evaluation of a range of policies, mitigation options, and research topics, such as the demographic, LULC-change, or climate-change effects on carbon stocks, carbon sequestration, and GHG fluxes in ecosystems.

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USGS Numbered Series
A method for assessing carbon stocks, carbon sequestration, and greenhouse-gas fluxes in ecosystems of the United States under present conditions and future scenarios
Series title:
Scientific Investigations Report
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U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
U.S. Geological Survey, California Water Science Center, Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center
Reprot: xviii, 85 p. ; Appendixes: A-I
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