Mapping the next decade of carbon cycle research

18 November 2011  •  U.S. scientists have developed an integrated ten-year science plan to better understand the details of Earth’s carbon cycle and people’s role in it. A U.S. Carbon Cycle Science Plan was produced by UCP’s Joint Office for Science Support with support from a variety of agencies involved in related research. The report succeeds an earlier plan of the same name published in 1999. Both are available on the U.S. Carbon Cycle Science Program’s website.

Cover of U.S. Carbon Cycle Science Plan

The new plan is the culmination of a three-year effort drawing on input from hundreds of scientists. Leading the project were Anna Michalak (Carnegie Institution for Science), Rob Jackson (Duke University), Gregg Marland (Appalachian State University), and Christopher Sabine (NOAA). The five scientists are part of the 25-member interagency Carbon Cycle Working Group.

“Although there has been a bonanza of new understanding about the carbon cycle over the last decade, many new questions have arisen,” says Michalak. The new plan, she adds, will help researchers expand their primary focus from carbon flows between the atmosphere, oceans, and plant life to fully integrate carbon’s impact on society as well as the role of humans as both intentional and inadvertent shapers of carbon movement.

In support of the plan’s six science goals, the team called for sustained observations to better monitor and track carbon; studies of processes that affect carbon cycle dynamics across spatial and temporal scales; improvements in modeling, prediction, and synthesis (especially modeling that quantifies uncertainty); and enhanced communication, particularly with decision makers.