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Assessing historical and projected carbon balance of Alaska: A synthesis of results and policy/management implications

September 1, 2018

We summarize the results of a recent interagency assessment of land carbon dynamics in Alaska, in which carbon dynamics were estimated for all major terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems for the historical period (1950–2009) and a projection period (2010–2099). Between 1950 and 2009, upland and wetland (i.e., terrestrial) ecosystems of the state gained 0.4 Tg C/yr (0.1% of net primary production, NPP), resulting in a cumulative greenhouse gas radiative forcing of 1.68 × 10−3 W/m2. The change in carbon storage is spatially variable with the region of the Northwest Boreal Landscape Conservation Cooperative (LCC) losing carbon because of fire disturbance. The combined carbon transport via various pathways through inland aquatic ecosystems of Alaska was estimated to be 41.3 Tg C/yr (17% of terrestrial NPP). During the projection period (2010–2099), carbon storage of terrestrial ecosystems of Alaska was projected to increase (22.5–70.0 Tg C/yr), primarily because of NPP increases of 10–30% associated with responses to rising atmospheric CO2, increased nitrogen cycling, and longer growing seasons. Although carbon emissions to the atmosphere from wildfire and wetland CH4 were projected to increase for all of the climate projections, the increases in NPP more than compensated for those losses at the statewide level. Carbon dynamics of terrestrial ecosystems continue to warm the climate for four of the six future projections and cool the climate for only one of the projections. The attribution analyses we conducted indicated that the response of NPP in terrestrial ecosystems to rising atmospheric CO2(~5% per 100 ppmv CO2) saturates as CO2 increases (between approximately +150 and +450 ppmv among projections). This response, along with the expectation that permafrost thaw would be much greater and release large quantities of permafrost carbon after 2100, suggests that projected carbon gains in terrestrial ecosystems of Alaska may not be sustained. From a national perspective, inclusion of all of Alaska in greenhouse gas inventory reports would ensure better accounting of the overall greenhouse gas balance of the nation and provide a foundation for considering mitigation activities in areas that are accessible enough to support substantive deployment.

Publication Year 2018
Title Assessing historical and projected carbon balance of Alaska: A synthesis of results and policy/management implications
DOI 10.1002/eap.1768
Authors A. David McGuire, Hélène Genet, Zhou Lyu, Neal J. Pastick, Sarah M. Stackpoole, Richard Birdsey, David D'Amore, Yujie He, T. Scott Rupp, Robert G. Striegl, Bruce K. Wylie, Xiaoping Zhou, Qianlai Zhuang, Zhiliang Zhu
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecological Applications
Index ID 70200926
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Coop Res Unit Seattle; Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center