skip to main content

SciTech ConnectSciTech Connect

Title: Audit of the global carbon budget: estimate errors and their impact on uptake uncertainty

Over the last 5 decades monitoring systems have been developed to detect changes in the accumulation of carbon (C) in the atmosphere and ocean; however, our ability to detect changes in the behavior of the global C cycle is still hindered by measurement and estimate errors. Here we present a rigorous and flexible framework for assessing the temporal and spatial components of estimate errors and their impact on uncertainty in net C uptake by the biosphere. We present a novel approach for incorporating temporally correlated random error into the error structure of emission estimates. Based on this approach, we conclude that the 2σ uncertainties of the atmospheric growth rate have decreased from 1.2 Pg C yr₋1 in the 1960s to 0.3 Pg C yr₋1 in the 2000s due to an expansion of the atmospheric observation network. The 2σ uncertainties in fossil fuel emissions have increased from 0.3 Pg C yr₋1 in the 1960s to almost 1.0 Pg C yr₋1 during the 2000s due to differences in national reporting errors and differences in energy inventories. Lastly, while land use emissions have remained fairly constant, their errors still remain high and thus their global C uptake uncertainty is not trivial. Currently, themore » absolute errors in fossil fuel emissions rival the total emissions from land use, highlighting the extent to which fossil fuels dominate the global C budget. Because errors in the atmospheric growth rate have decreased faster than errors in total emissions have increased, a ~20% reduction in the overall uncertainty of net C global uptake has occurred. Given all the major sources of error in the global C budget that we could identify, we are 93% confident that terrestrial C uptake has increased and 97% confident that ocean C uptake has increased over the last 5 decades. Thus, it is clear that arguably one of the most vital ecosystem services currently provided by the biosphere is the continued removal of approximately half of atmospheric CO2 emissions from the atmosphere, although there are certain environmental costs associated with this service, such as the acidification of ocean waters.« less
 [1] ;  [2] ;  [3] ;  [4] ;  [5] ;  [6] ;  [1] ;  [1] ;  [7] ;  [7] ;  [8] ;  [9]
  1. Univ. of Montana, Missoula, MT (United States)
  2. Oak Ridge National Lab. (ORNL), Oak Ridge, TN (United States)
  3. Woods Hole Research Center, Falmouth, MA (United States)
  4. Imperial College, London (United Kingdom)
  5. Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory of NOAA, Miami, FL (United States)
  6. Princeton Univ., NJ (United States). Environmental Institute
  7. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Boulder, CO (United States). Earth System Research Lab.
  8. Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA (United States)
  9. Univ. of Colorado, Boulder, CO (United States)
Publication Date:
OSTI Identifier:
Grant/Contract Number:
Accepted Manuscript
Journal Name:
Biogeosciences (Online)
Additional Journal Information:
Journal Name: Biogeosciences (Online); Journal Volume: 12; Journal Issue: 8; Journal ID: ISSN 1726-4189
European Geosciences Union
Research Org:
Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Oak Ridge, TN (United States)
Sponsoring Org:
Country of Publication:
United States