Case of the Missing Sink

The Case of the Missing Sink

I chuckled too when I heard about the “missing sink.” However, this is an important and ongoing research topic with huge climate change policy implications. In short, scientists are unable to balance the global carbon budget and calculate the terrestrial sink uptake alone and have found that over a billion tons of carbon have “vanished” into thin air. To account for this imbalance, researchers solve for terrestrial sink uptake by calculating carbon emissions, change in atmospheric storage, and ocean update using residual changejavascript:; (i.e., account for the difference). This account discrepancy implies the existence of a missing carbon sink.

The search for the missing sink has focused on northern temperate regions. Recent data has shown that carbon is accumulating in northern mid-latitude terrestrial ecosystems, “although estimates of the magnitude and location of the accumulation vary among the analyses.” (Woods Hole Research Center: http://www.whrc.org/carbon/missingc.htm)

Currently, researchers are shifting their research efforts towards the tropics, where several climatologists claim to have found the sink. In short, scientists have found that tropical forests are removing higher quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than previously understood. And, despite rapid deforestation, researchers have “showed that tropical forests are the net source of a mere 100 million tonnes of carbon annually, contrary to previous estimates of 1.8 billion tonnes.” This suggests that carbon sequestration in the tropics is substantial enough to counterbalance the effects of deforestation and heightens the importance sustainably managing tropical forests and mitigate the burning of Amazonia.

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Credit: http://www.nature.com/climate/2007/0708/full/climate.2007.35.html

Here are several short articles on the topic:
Policy Implications of the Missing Global Carbon Sink, http://www.jstor.org/pss/20003601
Missing Carbon Mystery: Case Solved?, http://www.nature.com/climate/2007/0708/full/climate.2007.35.html

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