Measurements of carbon sequestration by long-term eddy covariance: methods and a critical evaluation of accuracy


Michael L. Goulden. e-mail, fax +1-617-495-9837, tel +1-617-496-4571


The turbulent exchanges of CO2 and water vapour between an aggrading deciduous forest in the north-eastern United States (Harvard Forest) and the atmosphere were measured from 1990 to 1994 using the eddy covariance technique. We present a detailed description of the methods used and a rigorous evaluation of the precision and accuracy of these measurements. We partition the sources of error into three categories: (1) uniform systematic errors are constant and independent of measurement conditions (2) selective systematic errors result when the accuracy of the exchange measurement varies as a function of the physical environment, and (3) sampling uncertainty results when summing an incomplete data set to calculate long-term exchange.

Analysis of the surface energy budget indicates a uniform systematic error in the turbulent exchange measurements of -20 to 0%. A comparison of nocturnal eddy flux with chamber measurements indicates a selective systematic underestimation during calm (friction velocity < 0.17 m s−1) nocturnal periods. We describe an approach to correct for this error. The integrated carbon sequestration in 1994 was 2.1 t C ha−1 y−1 with a 90% confidence interval due to sampling uncertainty of ±0.3 t C ha−1 y−1 determined by Monte Carlo simulation. Sampling uncertainty may be reduced by estimating the flux as a function of the physical environment during periods when direct observations are unavailable, and by minimizing the length of intervals without flux data. These analyses lead us to place an overall uncertainty on the annual carbon sequestration in 1994 of -0.3 to +0.8 t C ha−1 y−1.