Carbon Cycle Scientists Plan for Next Decade Print E-mail
Wednesday, 04 April 2012 07:36

Posted by Gyami Shrestha and Becky Fried


Last month, USGCRP's Carbon Cycle Science Program facilitated a series of briefings for the release of the 2011 U.S. Carbon Cycle Science Plan a document that will serve to guide carbon cycle research in the United States over the next decade.

Carbon is the foundation for all life on Earth. It is stored in reservoirs across the planet, including our oceans, atmosphere, plants, soils, and fossil fuels, and is a central component of food, shelter, transportation and other basic needs of human society.

Understanding the flow of carbon between reservoirs—the carbon cycle—as well as consequences of changes to the carbon cycle, has been a key area of scientific inquiry for decades. 

The last Carbon Cycle Science Plan was published in 1999 and helped guide scientists toward improved understanding of the role of CO¬2 in ocean acidification, carbon uptake by plants and soils, and other important advances. The new Plan outlines six science priorities for the next decade: 

  • Clear and timely explanation of variations in atmospheric CO2 and methane and associated uncertainties; 
  • Socioeconomic drivers of carbon emissions, and transparent methods to monitor and verify those emissions; 
  • The impacts that future climate changes and human activities may have on carbon stocks and flows 
  • Ecosystems, biodiversity, and natural resources changes under different CO2 and climate change scenarios; 
  • The likelihood of success and potential for side effects of carbon management pathways that might be undertaken to achieve a low-carbon future; and 
  • Decision-maker needs for carbon cycle information – providing data and projections that are relevant, credible, and legitimate for their decisions.

Dr. Marland (standing) and Dr. Johnson discussed the Plan with Federal agency representatives at USGCRP headquarters

A string of events throughout the month of March gave agencies across the Federal government a chance to hear directly from authors of the Plan about their vision for the next decade of carbon cycle science. 

In a briefing held at USGCRP headquarters, Gregg Marland of Appalachian State University and Rob Jackson of Duke University—both lead authors of the Plan—described the carbon cycle community’s stronger focus on interdisciplinary collaboration, decision science, the human role in carbon management, maintaining sustained observational and measurement systems, and effectively conveying uncertainty. 

In a series of briefings for the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Energy, and NASA, Stanford University professor and fellow Plan author Anna Michalak highlighted the important role of Federal agencies in collecting carbon data and called on the broad carbon cycle science community to provide the tools and expertise to help measure, report and verify carbon emissions.


Dr. Michalak discussing the Plan with USDA officials

The 2011 Carbon Cycle Science Plan was developed by a diverse set of authors from across the carbon cycle community and includes input from more than a hundred scientists from an array of disciplines—including ecologists, chemists, atmospheric scientists, and economists, among many others.


To learn more about the 2011 U.S. Carbon Cycle Science Plan, visit:


Gyami Shrestha manages the USGCRP’s US Carbon Cycle Science Program and its Carbon Cycle Interagency Working Group 

Becky Fried is a Policy Analyst at the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy