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The carbon balance of South America: status, decadal trends and main determinants

Author(s): M. Gloor | L. Gatti | R. J. W. Brienen | T. Feldpausch | O. Phillips | J. Miller | J.-P. Ometto | H. Ribeiro da Rocha | T. Baker | R. Houghton | Y. Malhi | L. Aragão | J.-L. Guyot | K. Zhao | R. Jackson | P. Peylin | S. Sitch | B. Poulter | M. Lomas | S. Zaehle | C. Huntingford | J. Lloyd

Journal: Biogeosciences Discussions
ISSN 1810-6277

Volume: 9;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 627;
Date: 2012;
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We attempt to summarize the carbon budget of South America and relate it to its dominant controls: population and economic growth, changes in land use practices and a changing atmospheric environment and climate. Flux estimation methods which we consider sufficiently reliable are fossil fuel emission inventories, biometric analysis of old-growth rainforests, estimation of carbon release associated with deforestation based on remote sensing and inventories, and finally inventories of agricultural exports. Other routes to estimating land-atmosphere CO2 fluxes include atmospheric transport inverse modelling and vegetation model predictions but are hampered by the data paucity and the need for improved parameterisation. The available data we analyze suggest that South America was a net source to the atmosphere during the 1980s (∼0.3–0.4 Pg C yr−1) and close to neutral (∼0.1 Pg C yr−1) in the 1990s with carbon uptake in old-growth forests nearly compensating carbon losses due to fossil fuel burning and deforestation. Annual mean precipitation over tropical South America measured by Amazon River discharge has a long-term upward trend, although over the last decade, dry seasons have tended to be drier and longer (and thus wet seasons wetter), with the years 2005 and 2010 experiencing strong droughts. It is currently unclear what the effect of these climate changes on the old-growth forest carbon sink will be but first measurements suggest it may be weakened. Based on scaling of forest census data the net carbon balance of South America seems to have been an increased source roughly over the 2005–2010 period (a total of ∼1 Pg C of dead tree biomass released over several years) due to forest drought response. Finally, economic development of the tropical forest regions of the continent is advancing steadily with exports of agricultural products being an important driver and witnessing a strong upturn over the last decade.

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