Carbon and Biogeochemical Cycles: Sustaining Life

Theme 2: Carbon & Biogeochemical Cycles: Sustaining Life

The Carbon & Biogeochemical Cycles: Sustaining Life Theme is led by Professor Kate Heal University of Edinburgh

SAGES Theme 2 is exploring four overarching questions:

(i) How, and where does the earth system absorb and emit carbon?

(ii) How does carbon move through the Earth system?

(iii) How do carbon and other biogeochemical cycles interact?

(iv) How do elemental cycles underpin ecosystem health and stability?

This theme brings together scientists from different universities studying the carbon cycle at scales varying from microbes to the globe as a whole. The aim is to identify and characterize carbon sinks and sources and to understand the sensitivity of the carbon cycle to change. Of particular interest are forests, marsh lands, peat bogs and soils, which could be transformed from being a store of carbon to a source of atmospheric carbon as a result of global warming and specific land management strategies. This could further increase the levels of carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere. Intriguingly, modest changes in land use could reverse the trend by increasing the vegetation and soil stores and lowering atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases.

Research aims to assess the balance between carbon sources and sinks, quantifying volumes of greenhouse gases and determining the processes affecting their release. Scientists will be using varied data collection techniques, from ground-based laboratory measurements to global-scale satellite observations. We will also pioneer the use of an airborne platform, the Dimona Eco aircraft, to help bridge the gap between the two scales and measure greenhouse gases and the processes of gas exchange at a local to regional scale.

The Theme 2 research result will provide new data which will be used to improve the way Global Circulation Models (GCMs) represent the exchange of carbon dioxide and methane between the atmosphere and the ground surface.