Student - November 29, 2007

Carbon flows tracked

By the summer of next year, it will be possible to calculate precisely how much carbon dioxide Europe emits into the atmosphere. Researchers at the Meteorology and Air Quality group are helping to develop a model that tracks the exact carbon flows between plants, oceans and the atmosphere.

Using measurements of carbon dioxide (CO2) uptake and atmospheric emissions in North America, scientists in the US, Canada and the Netherlands have developed the CarbonTracker. This simulation model calculates how much carbon the planet stores from the atmosphere and how much carbon is released by industry and from burning fossil fuels. On Thursday 26 November the research team published preliminary CarbonTracker results in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS).

The figures show that North America is a net producer of CO2. Fossil fuel combustion and the huge cement manufacturing industry are responsible for an estimated 1850 million tons of CO2 per year in that part of the world. Plants absorb a third of this (650 million tons) through photosynthesis.

According to the scientists, it is the first time that the flows of carbon dioxide between plants, soils, oceans and atmosphere have been measured so precisely for different parts of the world. So far CarbonTracker has only been used for North America, but it is expected that other continents will make use of it next year to quantify their CO2 emissions more exactly. This will enable all countries to see the effect of measures they have taken to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The scientists want to extend the programme to measure other greenhouse gases such as methane. The simulation images for North America can be seen on