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Climate Observations and Services
Carbon Cycle Program
What is requested?
As part of the FY2002 request for Climate Observations and Services in the Oceanic and Atmospheric Research budget activity, NOAA is requesting $2.3 million to implement its part of an interagency research plan on the carbon cycle. On the longest time scales, affecting the earth over decades to centuries, research into how we might predict future levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will require new observations and the capability to use those observations in predictive models. A scientific understanding of what releases and absorbs carbon dioxide to and from the atmosphere, and how this changes with time, is essential for any potential policy on climate change.
Why do we need it?
One of the most noticeable changes NOAA has measured in the Earth's atmosphere over the past 50 years is the consistent increase in carbon dioxide concentration. Carbon dioxide is intrinsically linked to climate, because it acts to trap heat in the atmosphere, thus affecting both temperature and precipitation patterns. One of the major uncertainties in future climate predictions is knowing how the cycling of carbon will change as climate and land use patterns change. Currently, the Earth system absorbs about half of the excess atmospheric carbon dioxide released by human activities. Some of the carbon is absorbed into the ocean, and some is absorbed by plants and soils on land. There is also increasing interest in discovering how to actively manage our resources such as land, coastal, and open ocean environments to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. By studying, observing, and modeling carbon processes in the atmosphere, ocean and on land in an integrated way, NOAA will be better able to predict future atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, and, therefore, future climate patterns.
What will we do?
Innovative techniques to measure carbon and its transfers between the ocean, land, and atmosphere now make it possible to gather information on where carbon is being stored and why. In order to take advantage of these new techniques to provide more information about how carbon dioxide concentrations change from year to year and what processes are involved in causing these changes, increased observations are needed over land, especially over the continental regions such as North America, in the ocean, and in the atmosphere. NOAA will begin regular sampling of the atmosphere, both as part of its global atmospheric network and as a large scale campaign over North America taking advantage of tall transmission towers, as well as dedicated aircraft flights. There are currently 50 ground-based sampling sites. Instrumentation of ships and other available platforms is also needed in order to collect important data on the surface distribution of carbon and its exchange with the atmosphere. Inventory of the ocean interior is also critical to be able to track how excess carbon is being stored in the deep ocean, and if these patterns are likely to change with changes in ocean circulation. A novel observational analysis and modeling capability is necessary in order to use these new observations in the most efficient way to provide integrated information on the carbon cycle. This new system will link with dynamic climate models in the future to be able to provide more realistic atmospheric carbon dioxide and climate patterns.
What are the benefits?
This program will address a number of questions that will be critical for our society to answer, including: