Seasonal pattern of regional carbon balance in the central Rocky Mountains from surface and airborne measurements



[1] High-elevation forests represent a large fraction of potential carbon uptake in North America, but this uptake is not well constrained by observations. Additionally, forests in the Rocky Mountains have recently been severely damaged by drought, fire, and insect outbreaks, which have been quantified at local scales but not assessed in terms of carbon uptake at regional scales. The Airborne Carbon in the Mountains Experiment was carried out in 2007 partly to assess carbon uptake in western U.S. mountain ecosystems. The magnitude and seasonal change of carbon uptake were quantified by (1) paired upwind-downwind airborne CO2 observations applied in a boundary layer budget, (2) a spatially explicit ecosystem model constrained using remote sensing and flux tower observations, and (3) a downscaled global tracer transport inversion. Top-down approaches had mean carbon uptake equivalent to flux tower observations at a subalpine forest, while the ecosystem model showed less. The techniques disagreed on temporal evolution. Regional carbon uptake was greatest in the early summer immediately following snowmelt and tended to lessen as the region experienced dry summer conditions. This reduction was more pronounced in the airborne budget and inversion than in flux tower or upscaling, possibly related to lower snow water availability in forests sampled by the aircraft, which were lower in elevation than the tower site. Changes in vegetative greenness associated with insect outbreaks were detected using satellite reflectance observations, but impacts on regional carbon cycling were unclear, highlighting the need to better quantify this emerging disturbance effect on montane forest carbon cycling.