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abstract

Recent analyses of land-use change in the US and China, together with the latest estimates of tropical deforestation and afforestation from the FAO, were used to calculate a portion of the annual flux of carbon between terrestrial ecosystems and the atmosphere. The calculated flux includes only that portion of the flux resulting from direct human activity. In most regions, activities included the conversion of natural ecosystems to cultivated lands and pastures, including shifting cultivation, harvest of wood (for timber and fuel) and the establishment of tree plantations. In the US, woody encroachment and woodland thickening as a result of fire suppression were also included. The calculated flux of carbon does not include increases or decreases in carbon storage as a result of environmental changes (e.g., increasing concentrations of CO2, N deposition, climatic change or pollution). Globally, the long-term (1850–2000) flux of carbon from changes in land use and management released 156 PgC to the atmosphere, about 60% of it from the tropics. Average annual fluxes during the 1980s and 1990s were 2.0 and 2.2 PgC yr−1, respectively, dominated by releases of carbon from the tropics. Outside the tropics, the average net flux of carbon attributable to land-use change and management decreased from a source of 0.06 PgC yr−1 during the 1980s to a sink of 0.02 PgC yr−1 during the 1990s. According to the analyses summarized here, changes in land use were responsible for sinks in North America and Europe and for small sources in other non-tropical regions. The revisions were as large as 0.3 PgC yr−1 in individual regions but were largely offsetting, so that the global estimate for the 1980s was changed little from an earlier estimate. Uncertainties and recent improvements in the data used to calculate the flux of carbon from land-use change are reviewed, and the results are compared to other estimates of flux to evaluate the extent to which processes other than land-use change and management are important in explaining changes in terrestrial carbon storage.