Arctic Now Traps 25 Percent of World’s Carbon, But That Could Change

The arctic could potentially alter the Earth’s climate by becoming a possible source of global atmospheric carbon dioxide.  The arctic now traps or absorbs up to 25 percent of this gas but climate change could alter that amount, according to a study published in the November issue of Ecological Monographs.

In their review paper, David McGuire of the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Alaska at Fairbanks and his colleagues show that the Arctic has been a carbon sink since the end of the last Ice Age, which has recently accounted for between zero and 25 percent, or up to about 800 million metric tons, of the global carbon sink. On average, says McGuire, the Arctic accounts for 10-15 percent of the Earth’s carbon sink. But the rapid rate of climate change in the Arctic – about twice that of lower latitudes – could eliminate the sink and instead, possibly make the Arctic a source of carbon dioxide.

“This study is another example of the important role played by USGS and its partners in providing the scientific research that must be the backbone of any actions related to climate change,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.

caption below
This figure shows the mean extent of permafrost in the Arctic, estimated for (a) the years 1990-2000 and (b) the years 2090-2100. In (c), the estimation of loss of permafrost by 2100 is overlaid on estimates for the year 2000. Credit: A. David McGuire, USGS (click on the image to see the full size version)

Carbon generally enters the oceans and land masses of the Arctic from the atmosphere and largely accumulates in permafrost, the frozen layer of soil underneath the land’s surface. Unlike active soils, permafrost does not decompose its carbon; thus, the carbon becomes trapped in the frozen soil. Cold conditions at the surface have also slowed the rate of organic matter decomposition, McGuire says, allowing Arctic carbon accumulation to exceed its release.

But recent warming trends could change this balance. Warmer temperatures can accelerate the rate of surface organic matter decomposition, releasing more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Of greater concern, says McGuire, is that the permafrost has begun to thaw, exposing previously frozen soil to decomposition and erosion. These changes could reverse the historical role of the Arctic as a sink for carbon dioxide.

“In the short term, warming temperatures could release more Arctic carbon to the atmosphere,” says McGuire. “And with permafrost thawing, there will be more available carbon to release.”

On the scale of a few decades, the thawing permafrost could also result in a more waterlogged Arctic, says McGuire, a situation that could encourage the activity of methane-producing organisms. Currently, the Arctic is a substantial source of methane to the atmosphere: as much as 50 million metric tons of methane are released per year, in comparison to the 400 million metric tons of carbon dioxide the Arctic stores yearly. But methane is a very potent greenhouse gas – about 23 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide on a 100-year time scale. If the release of Arctic methane accelerates, global warming could increase at much faster rates.

“We don’t understand methane very well, and its releases to the atmosphere are more episodic than the exchanges of carbon dioxide with the atmosphere,” says McGuire. “It’s important to pay attention to methane dynamics because of methane’s substantial potential to accelerate global warming.”

But uncertainties still abound about the response of the Arctic system to climate change. For example, the authors write, global warming may produce longer growing seasons that promote plant photosynthesis, which removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Also, the expansion of shrubs in tundra and the movement of treeline northward could sequester more carbon in vegetation. However, increasingly dry conditions may counteract and overcome these effects. Similarly, dry conditions can lead to increased fire prevalence, releasing even more carbon.

McGuire contends that only specific regional studies can determine which areas are likely to experience changes in response to climate change.

“If the response of the arctic carbon cycle to climate change results in substantial net releases of greenhouse gases, this could compromise proposed mitigation efforts for controlling the carbon cycle,” he says.

The article, Sensitivity of the Carbon Cycle in the Arctic to Climate Change, was published online today in Ecological Monographs. The coordinating lead author is David McGuire, USGS, and the co-authors include internationally renowned scientists from Canada, Germany, Sweden, and the United States. This study was sponsored by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program, the Climate in the Cryosphere Program, and the International Arctic Science Committee.

[Source: USGS news release]

NASA Accepting Applications from U.S. Undergrads for Spring and Summer Internships

nasa-large“The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Undergraduate Student Research Program (USRP) offers undergraduates across the United States mentored internship experiences at NASA Centers and research support facilities. The NASA Undergraduate Student Research Program is NASA’s largest nationwide internship program.

“NASA USRP is an internship program that offers NASA research and development opportunities to undergraduate students. USRP internship opportunities give students the ultimate workforce preparatory experience for careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). USRP is one of most highly comprehensive internship programs for undergraduate students within the STEM majors. Students work on practical problems that will see real applications in aerospace or on future NASA missions. These immersive NASA opportunities combine scientific research with professional hands-on engineering. A USRP internship will be the first step toward a career at NASA, or within the science and engineering workforce.

“The USRP experience is a NASA internship that places qualified undergraduates with outstanding NASA mentors in a challenging working environment. Students from around the country work on a NASA project developed to meet the needs and goals of the NASA Center and Mission Directorate. Through the USRP website students apply for the internship program and NASA mentors select students for available project positions. The USRP website is also a valuable resource of information in regards to NASA internships and NASA Centers and NASA research focus areas. Research NASA’s wide variety of scientific and technical research areas through the USRP website and find your career vision through a NASA USRP internship.”

Uganda to Host Conference On Geoinformation Science


“Uganda will this month host a geoinformation science conference. The global meet is part of efforts to address challenges of climate change, land degradation and natural resource degradation.

“The conference, which will focus on contemporary technologies of Remote Sensing and Geographical Information Systems is set for October 26-30 and will will also address business intelligence.

“GIS expert Mr Yazidhi Bamutaze, a Makerere University lecturer in the Department of Geography yesterday said the conference entitled “Geospatial Information and Sustainable Development in Africa: Facing Challenges of Global Change,” will take place at Speke Resort, Munyonyo.”

GIS Contributes to Groundbreaking Carbon Emissions Inventory

purdueBy C. C. Miller, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana

Researchers from Purdue University’s Project Vulcan developed processes for aggregating carbon emissions data from multiple sources and formats.  Valuable GIS support for this project came from an unlikely source: the university’s library.

Vulcan is a two-year-old project funded by theNational Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and led by Kevin Gurney, assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. Its mission is to quantify North American fossil fuel carbon dioxide (C02) emissions at higher spatial and temporal scales than ever before.

The project’s spatial component called for significant amounts of geoprocessing. The majority of these operations, accomplished with ArcGIS, resolve input geographies (points, roads, counties) with 10-kilometer square grid cells. GIS was also used to place surrogate emissions into grid cells using population, land-use, or some other meaningful proxy when necessary. [Emissions surrogates are used as indicators of emissions activity. The spatial distributions are assumed to be representative of the geographic distribution of emissions sources.] Software, custom-built by team members, could then process all input data at a common unit of geography and an hourly temporal scale for an entire year.

The purpose of the Vulcan project is to quantify North American fossil fuel carbon dioxide (C02) emissions at higher spatial and temporal scales than ever before.

The purpose of the Vulcan project is to quantify North American fossil fuel carbon dioxide (C02) emissions at higher spatial and temporal scales than ever before.

Although much of the Vulcan workflow was ripe for GIS input, GIS was late to the party. Purdue University Libraries hired its first GIS librarian in late 2006 to help push new efforts to apply library science expertise to data and information problems facing researchers in labs and centers across campus. Faculty librarians at Purdue were encouraged to assist any department—Communications, Agronomy, Hospitality, and Tourism Management—with data and information problems. The nature of GIS meant these librarians were likely to find work in all these areas.

Response from collaborating faculty and teams has been swift. Purdue librarians have been welcomed onto teams and into collaborations
not traditionally inclined to allocate a portion of grant funds for librarians’ salaries. In particular, information and data—geodata especially—is so unruly and fluid that apparently researchers appreciate the benefits of having a librarian around who knows GIS, is familiar with the geodata, and can handle classic and developing technologies in GIS and geoinformatics.

Consequently, in late 2006, Vulcan project team members who needed to visualize some county data approached the libraries. Just as traditional library reference transactions tend to do, these requests evolved. Requestors asked increasingly complex questions: What could GIS do with data from multiple sources and programs? How could it represent C02 emitters in different formats? As more questions were answered using GIS, the librarian became part of the Vulcan workflow, supplying GIS support to the team and nagging about the importance of metadata and data archiving.

The rest would have been history, but the response to the initial release of Vulcan data, as well as an emerging sister program at Purdue University, the Hestia project, indicates there is plenty of additional work for all parties. [Hestia combines diverse data about the flow and metabolism of the energy-emissions-climate nexus in an intuitive, interactive, photorealistic, three-dimensional visualization of the Earth.]

Contributing GIS and geospatial technologies to an atmospheric sciences project was not accomplished without some disruption. The lexicons that atmospheric scientists and librarians use to communicate do not always equate, nor do the dictionaries of GIS and atmospheric modeling. In addition, the small Vulcan team is required to move large datasets from place to place.

There has not been time to fully develop all the infrastructure needed to automate and streamline the project’s work. However, as part of the academic trend toward more interdisciplinary scholarship and research, Vulcan is already producing valuable data and tools. Atmospheric science has been the primary beneficiary; computer graphics, geoinformatics, and data librarianship will also benefit from the labor dedicated to and lessons learned from Project Vulcan.

The project is funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and led by Kevin Gurney, assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.

The project is funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and led by Kevin Gurney, assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.

While all Vulcan’s components are scheduled for improvement, the data used to surrogate emission sources and the automated spot-check mapping infrastructure used to quickly examine model output will be among the first enhanced. Future additions to the project will include intelligent, automated data archiving and online interaction with data. These additions will ensure that—while the computer scientists, computer graphics specialists, and atmospheric scientists will have their hands full with software, visualizations,
and important new analysis—there will still be plenty of work for the resident librarian.

Some geoinformatic aspects of Vulcan were used in an inaugural geoinformatics course taught by Purdue faculty members (including the author of this article) in spring 2008. Project members expect that successful models for working with and disseminating Vulcan data will filter into other initiatives for improving accessibility to geodata across the Purdue campus.

For more information, contact:

C. C. Miller, Assistant Professor of Library Science, Geographic Information Systems Specialist (GIS Librarian),
Purdue University Libraries
Tel.: 765-496-9474
Web: (department) or (institution)

(This article originally appeared in the Winter 2008 issue of GIS Educator.)

Geographical Variations in the Correlates of Blood Donor Turnout Rates: An Investigation of Canadian Metropolitan Areas

plague…from the International Journal of Health Geographics 2009, 8:56…

Pj Saberton, Antonio Paez, K. Bruce Newbold, Nancy M Heddle


“Like other countries, Canada’s population is aging, and the implications of this demographic change need to be better understood from the perspective of blood supply. Analysis of donor data will help to identify systematic patterns of donation and its correlates. Data Geo-coded blood donor and donor clinic data are provided by Canadian Blood Services. Blood donor data is provided for the fiscal year 2006-2007 indicating the total number of donors for each Canadian postal code, excluding the province of Quebec. Potential correlates of blood donation are selected based on social and economic characteristics, as well as descriptors of city size and geographical location in the urban hierarchy measures of accessibility, and capacity of donor clinics.


“Data is aggregated to n=3,746 census tracts in 40 Census Metropolitan Areas (CMA) across the country. The number of donors per population in a census tract is regressed against the set of potential donation correlates. Autocorrelation is tested for and results adjusted to provide parsimonious models.


“A number of factors are found to influence donation across the country, including the proportion of younger residents, English ability, proportion of people with immigrant status, higher education, and a population-based measure of accessibility.


“While a number of correlates of blood donation are observed across Canada, important contextual effects across metropolitan areas are highlighted. The paper concludes by looking at policy options that are aimed toward further understanding donor behaviour.”

The Evolution of the Water Distribution Capital Improvement Planning Template

esri…from the ESRI Water Utilities Blog

“As you may have seen, we released the Water Distribution Capital Improvement Planning (CIP) Template a last week.  First, we wanted to say a big thank you to all of our users and business partners who helped us to refine the initial geoprocessing models and the toolset also shared their workflows for capital planning.

“We’ve already had a few questions about why we chose the term Capital Improvement Planning (CIP) to describe this template, since not all utilities use that term.  So when we use the term CIP, what we mean is the long term plans of a utility to manage their assets and/or to expand their system, what you may also call a “Capital Plan”, “Long Term Plan” or “5 year plan”.”

Vital Statistics: Summary of a National Research Council Workshop

vital…a new report from the Committee on National Statistics from the National Research Council…

“Vital statistics, the records of birth and death, are a critical national information resource for understanding public health. Over the past few decades, the specific program that gathers the data has evolved into a complex cooperative program between the federal and state governments for social measurement. The Vital Statistics Cooperative Program (VSCP) is currently maintained by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

“The U.S. vital statistics system relies on the original information reported by myriad individuals, channeled through varying state and local information systems, and coordinated and processed by a federal statistical agency that has experienced relatively flat funding for many years. The challenges facing the vital statistics system and the continuing importance of the resulting data make it an important topic for examination.

“A workshop, held by the National Academies and summarized in this volume, considered the importance of adequate vital statistics. In particular, the workshop assessed both current and emerging uses of the data, considered the methodological and organizational features of compiling vital data, and identified possible visions for the vital statistics program.”

Visualizing the U.S. Electric Grid

nprlogo_138x46…from NPR

“The U.S. electric grid is a complex network of independently owned and operated power plants and transmission lines. Aging infrastructure, combined with a rise in domestic electricity consumption, has forced experts to critically examine the status and health of the nation’s electrical systems.”


Map layers include the U.S. electric grid, sources of power, power plants, solar power, and wind power.

A Global Map of Human Impacts to Marine Ecosystems

“What happens in the vast stretches of the world’s oceans – both wondrous and worrisome – has too often been out of sight, out of mind.


“The sea represents the last major scientific frontier on planet earth – a place where expeditions continue to discover not only new species, but even new phyla. The role of these species in the ecosystem, where they sit in the tree of life, and how they respond to environmental changes really do constitute mysteries of the deep. Despite technological advances that now allow people to access, exploit or affect nearly all parts of the ocean, we still understand very little of the ocean’s biodiversity and how it is changing under our influence.

“The goal of the research presented here is to estimate and visualize, for the first time, the global impact humans are having on the ocean’s ecosystems.”

Free Data Set: Carbon and Nitrogen Response to Elevated CO2 in Terrestrial Systems

“We compiled data from 104 published papers that study C and N dynamics at ambient and elevated CO2. The compiled database contains C contents, N contents, and C:N ratio in various plant and soil pools, and root:shoot ratio. Averaged C and N pool sizes in plant and soil all significantly increase at elevated CO2 in comparison to those at ambient CO2; ranging from a 5% increase in shoot N content to a 32% increase in root C content. Parts of this data set are copyrighted by the Ecological Society of America. Luo, Yiqi, Dafeng Hui, and Deqiang Zhang. 2006. Elevated CO2 stimulates net accumulations of carbon and nitrogen in land ecosystems: a meta-analysis. Ecology 87:53-63. Ecological Archives E087-001.”