Measuring potential for carbon storage in US lands

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WASHINGTON, DC, Dec. 13, 2010 -- A new methodology to assess the potential to store carbon in U.S. wetlands, forests and rangelands ecosystems--and thus to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere -- will help find ways to mitigate the impacts of climate change, the Department of the Interior announced today.

"This new research by scientists from Interior's U.S. Geological Survey is a cutting-edge development that will inform land management policies and planning for the long-term storage of carbon to help lessen the impacts of climate change," Deputy Secretary of the Interior David J. Hayes said today. "This innovative initiative, which Congress called on Interior to undertake in 2007 energy legislation and which Secretary Salazar outlined at the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference, will improve the nation's understanding of amounts, sources, and transport of carbon at scales suitable for use by land managers and decisionmakers."

"Using this methodology, the USGS will now be able to conduct a national assessment to determine how much carbon is being stored in ecosystems and to estimate the capability to use natural systems -- such as wetlands, forests and rangelands -- to absorb greenhouse gases. The assessment will be conducted on a regional basis," said USGS scientist Zhiliang Zhu.

The process of removing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in vegetation, soils and aquatic environments is known as biological carbon sequestration. The movement of greenhouse gases in ecosystems results from natural ecosystem processes and human activities. This assessment accounts for three gases, which are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O).

As part of the national assessment, USGS scientists are evaluating major processes that affect carbon sequestration capability and greenhouse gas emissions. Those processes include climate change, changes in land use and land cover, changes in land management activities, and ecosystem disturbances such as wildfires.

This methodology incorporates public comments that were solicited on a draft methodology published in July 2010. It also builds upon the USGS rapid assessment report published in December 2009 to estimate the carbon storage potential in the nation's forests and soils. The new methodology focuses on all of the nation's ecosystems and incorporates data and methods (including land use and biogeochemical models and aquatic models) that were updated since the rapid assessment was published. This methodology also incorporates suggestions from an interagency science panel, an extensive peer-review process and comments from other federal agencies.

In addition, the USGS is conducting research on a number of other fronts related to carbon sequestration. These efforts include evaluating the potential for storing carbon dioxide in geologic formations below Earth's surface, potential release of greenhouse gases from Arctic soils and permafrost, and mapping the distribution of rocks suitable for potential mineral sequestration efforts.

The methodology was developed in accordance with the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which directed the Department of the Interior to develop the methodology and conduct the national assessment. This research also benefited from discussions with a variety of organizations and stakeholders, such as the Department of Agriculture (particularly the U.S. Forest Service) and Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency and the science community.

For more information about this assessment methodology, visit http://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2010/5233/.

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