All living things are made of carbon. Through exchanges and transformations within and between Earth’s oceans, land, atmosphere, and biosphere, the cycling of carbon fundamentally affects—and is affected by—environmental change, aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, and human activities. Last March, a multidisciplinary group of researchers and stakeholders gathered to discuss the progress, challenges, and future research priorities in carbon cycle research across North America.
Since their establishment in 1996, 1999, and 2005, respectively, AmeriFlux, the U.S. Carbon Cycle Science Program, and the North American Carbon Program (NACP) have focused on developing quantitative scientific knowledge, robust observations, models, and decision-making tools relevant to carbon cycling and sustainable carbon management. The 2017 joint meeting brought together almost 300 scientists, policy makers, industry representatives, economists, and government program managers from the United States, Canada, and Mexico. It included 15 science sessions with 61 plenary talks, 180 posters, numerous student speed talks, and 15 breakout sessions. The meeting was designed to foster collaboration, synthesis, and multiagency coordination of interdisciplinary, integrated carbon cycle research in North America and adjacent ocean regions.
Crossing the Disciplinary Divides
The meeting provided a forum for discussions at the intersection of carbon science, social science, and carbon management. Topics included linking the carbon cycle to decision-making, low-carbon future scenarios, trinational advances in carbon monitoring and reporting, carbon science communication, and making carbon data products more accessible and relevant to societal needs.
Invited keynote speakers discussed current infrastructure and capacity needs in carbon cycle research, and they offered insights and useful guidelines to more effectively communicate the science to stakeholders and policy makers across all levels of government. A 1-day workshop, primarily intended for early-career scientists, provided guidance on fundamental data management practices. The workshop emphasized that investigators should perform these practices during the course of data collection to improve the usability of their data sets.
Moving the Science Forward
Meeting participants discussed the role of natural and anthropogenic disturbances in carbon cycling, including fire, deforestation, insect and disease outbreaks, and anthropogenic nitrogen loading. They also discussed studies in critical regions from the Arctic to the tropics and field activities and intensive field campaigns in terrestrial and aquatic environments. Such field activities include the AmeriFlux network, the National Science Foundation’s National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), and NASA’s Arctic-Coastal Land Ocean Interactions (Arctic-COLORS) and Arctic-Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE) programs.
In the sessions, participants revealed significant recent progress on linkages between aquatic and terrestrial carbon cycles, and they highlighted emerging technologies for reducing carbon measurement and model uncertainties. They also discussed where and how expanded ground-, airborne-, and space-based measurements can fill gaps in scientists’ current ability to infer regional to continental ecosystem-atmosphere carbon fluxes.
Integrative discussions on multisystem carbon cycle studies and assessments included the upcoming special report of the Sustained National Climate Assessment, the Second State of the Carbon Cycle Report (SOCCR-2), and global methane budget and measurements. Meeting participants called for more synthesis studies and collaborative activities among the NACP and AmeriFlux communities. The meeting underscored the need for sustained interagency coordination and new collaborations among researchers, practitioners, and decision-makers, as well as stronger connections between research and application, the natural and social sciences, and science and policy.
Further information about the meeting, a list of participants, and presentation abstracts can be found on the meeting’s website.
Libby Larson (North American Carbon Program) contributed to this article. The 2017 PIM Organizing Committee, the U.S. Carbon Cycle Science Program, and the NACP Office organized the meeting, with support from the Biological and Environmental Research program at the U.S. Department of Energy and NASA’s Carbon Cycle and Ecosystems Focus Area. We also acknowledge the support of the Carbon Cycle Interagency Working Group (CCIWG).
—Maria Tzortziou (email: [email protected]; @mtzortziou), City University of New York, N.Y.; also at Columbia University, New York, N.Y.; Marcy Litvak, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque; and Gyami Shrestha (@GyamiPhD), U.S. Carbon Cycle Science Program, U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, D. C.