Box 3.1: Measuring terrestrial carbon stocks and
Estimating the carbon stocks in terrestrial ecosystems and accounting
for changes in these stocks requires adequate information on land cover,
carbon density in vegetation and soils, and the fate of carbon (burning,
removals, decomposition). Accounting for changes in all carbon stocks
in all areas would yield the net carbon exchange between terrestrial ecosystems
and the atmosphere (NBP).
Global land cover maps show poor agreement due to different definitions
of cover types and inconsistent sources of data (de Fries and Townshend,
1994). Land cover changes are difficult to document, uncertainties are
large, and historical data are sparse. Satellite imagery is a valuable
tool for estimating land cover, despite problems with cloud cover, changes
at fine spatial scales, and interpretation (for example, difficulties
in distinguishing primary and secondary forest). Aerial photography and
ground measurements can be used to validate satellite-based observations.
The carbon density of vegetation and soils has been measured in numerous
ecological field studies that have been aggregated to a global scale to
assess carbon stocks and NPP (e.g., Atjay et al., 1979; Olson et al.,
1983; Saugier and Roy, 2001; Table 3.2), although high spatial and temporal
heterogeneity and methodological differences introduce large uncertainties.
Land inventory studies tend to measure the carbon stocks in vegetation
and soils over larger areas and/or longer time periods. For example, the
United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has been compiling
forest inventories since 1946 providing detailed data on carbon stocks,
often based on commercial wood production data. Inventory studies include
managed forests with mixed age stands, thus average carbon stock values
are often lower than those based on ecological site studies, which have
generally been carried out in relatively undisturbed, mature ecosystems.
Fluxes of carbon can be estimated from changes in inventoried carbon stocks
(e.g., UN-ECE/FAO, 2000), or from combining data on land-use change with
methods to calculate changes in carbon stock (e.g., Houghton, 1999). The
greatest uncertainty in both methods is in estimating the fate of the
carbon: the fraction which is burned, rates of decomposition, the effect
of burning and harvesting on soil carbon, and subsequent land management.
Ecosystem-atmosphere CO2 exchange on short time-scales can
be measured using micrometeorological techniques such as eddy covariance,
which relies on rapidly responding sensors mounted on towers to resolve
the net flux of CO2 between a patch of land and the atmosphere
(Baldocchi et al., 1988). The annual integral of the measured CO2
exchange is approximately equivalent to NEP (Wofsy et al., 1993; Goulden
et. al, 1996; Aubinet et al., 2000). This innovation has led to the establishment
of a rapidly expanding network of long-term monitoring sites (FLUXNET)
with many sites now operating for several years, improving the understanding
of the physiological and ecological processes that control NEP (e.g.,
Valentini et al., 2000). The distribution of sites is currently biased
toward regrowing forests in the Northern Hemisphere, and there are still
technical problems and uncertainties, although these are being tackled.
Current flux measurement techniques typically integrate processes at a
scale less than 1 km2.