Articles | Volume 12, issue 2
Research article
19 Jan 2015
Research article |  | 19 Jan 2015

Atmospheric inversion of surface carbon flux with consideration of the spatial distribution of US crop production and consumption

J. M. Chen, J. W. Fung, G. Mo, F. Deng, and T. O. West

Abstract. In order to improve quantification of the spatial distribution of carbon sinks and sources in the conterminous US, we conduct a nested global atmospheric inversion with detailed spatial information on crop production and consumption. County-level cropland net primary productivity, harvested biomass, soil carbon change, and human and livestock consumption data over the conterminous US are used for this purpose. Time-dependent Bayesian synthesis inversions are conducted based on CO2 observations at 210 stations to infer CO2 fluxes globally at monthly time steps with a nested focus on 30 regions in North America. Prior land surface carbon fluxes are first generated using a biospheric model, and the inversions are constrained using prior fluxes with and without adjustments for crop production and consumption over the 2002–2007 period. After these adjustments, the inverted regional carbon sink in the US Midwest increases from 0.25 ± 0.03 to 0.42 ± 0.13 Pg C yr−1, whereas the large sink in the US southeast forest region is weakened from 0.41 ± 0.12 to 0.29 ± 0.12 Pg C yr−1. These adjustments also reduce the inverted sink in the west region from 0.066 ± 0.04 to 0.040 ± 0.02 Pg C yr−1 because of high crop consumption and respiration by humans and livestock. The general pattern of sink increases in crop production areas and sink decreases (or source increases) in crop consumption areas highlights the importance of considering the lateral carbon transfer in crop products in atmospheric inverse modeling, which provides a reliable atmospheric perspective of the overall carbon balance at the continental scale but is unreliable for separating fluxes from different ecosystems.

Short summary
The major findings of this article are the following. 1. Atmospheric CO2 observations alone are not sufficient to estimate the spatial distribution of carbon sources and sinks over North America, even though it is one of the most densely observed regions in the world. 2. To improve atmospheric inversion, lateral carbon transfer in agricultural products should be considered in the prior flux used to constrain the inversion.
Final-revised paper