Articles | Volume 6, issue 10
Biogeosciences, 6, 2193–2205, 2009

Special issue: Carbon cycling in Sub-Saharan Africa

Biogeosciences, 6, 2193–2205, 2009

  15 Oct 2009

15 Oct 2009

An outlook on the Sub-Saharan Africa carbon balance

A. Bombelli1, M. Henry1,2,3, S. Castaldi4, S. Adu-Bredu5, A. Arneth6, A. de Grandcourt7,8, E. Grieco1, W. L. Kutsch9, V. Lehsten6, A. Rasile4, M. Reichstein9, K. Tansey10, U. Weber9, and R. Valentini1,11 A. Bombelli et al.
  • 1Department of Forest Environment and Resources (DISAFRI), Univ. of Tuscia, via S. Camillo de Lellis, 01100 Viterbo, Italy
  • 2Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, IRD, UR SeqBio, SupAgro, Bat. 12, 2 place Viala, 34060 Montpellier Cedex 1, France
  • 3AgroParisTech-ENGREF, GEEFT, 648 rue Jean-François Breton, BP 7355 – 34086 Montpellier Cedex 4, France
  • 4Dipartimento di Scienze Ambientali, Seconda Università di Napoli, via Vivaldi 43, 81100 Caserta, Italy
  • 5Forestry Research Institute of Ghana (FORIG), P.O. Box 63 KNUST, Kumasi, Ghana
  • 6Department of Physical Geography and Ecosystems Analysis (INES), Centre for GeoBiosphere Science, Lund University, Sölvegatan 12, 223 62, Lund, Sweden
  • 7Centre de coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement (CIRAD), Persyst, UPR80, TA B-80/D, 34398 Montpellier Cedex 5, France
  • 8Unité de recherche sur la productivité des plantations industrielles (UR2PI), BP 1291, Pointe Noire, Congo
  • 9Max-Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Hans-Knöll Strasse 10, 07745 JENA, Germany
  • 10Department of Geography, University of Leicester, Leicester, LE1 7RH, UK
  • 11Euro-Mediterranean Centre for Climate Change (CMCC), via Augusto Imperatore 16, 73100 Lecce, Italy

Abstract. This study gives an outlook on the carbon balance of Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) by presenting a summary of currently available results from the project CarboAfrica (namely net ecosystem productivity and emissions from fires, deforestation and forest degradation, by field and model estimates) supplemented by bibliographic data and compared with a new synthesis of the data from national communications to UNFCCC. According to these preliminary estimates the biogenic carbon balance of SSA varies from 0.16 Pg C y−1 to a much higher sink of 1.00 Pg C y−1 (depending on the source data). Models estimates would give an unrealistic sink of 3.23 Pg C y−1, confirming their current inadequacy when applied to Africa. The carbon uptake by forests and savannas (0.34 and 1.89 Pg C y−1, respectively,) are the main contributors to the resulting sink. Fires (0.72 Pg C y−1) and deforestation (0.25 Pg C y−1) are the main contributors to the SSA carbon emissions, while the agricultural sector and forest degradation contributes only with 0.12 and 0.08 Pg C y−1, respectively. Savannas play a major role in shaping the SSA carbon balance, due to their large extension, their fire regime, and their strong interannual NEP variability, but they are also a major uncertainty in the overall budget. Even if fossil fuel emissions from SSA are relative low, they can be crucial in defining the sign of the overall SSA carbon balance by reducing the natural sink potential, especially in the future. This paper shows that Africa plays a key role in the global carbon cycle system and probably could have a potential for carbon sequestration higher than expected, even if still highly uncertain. Further investigations are needed, particularly to better address the role of savannas and tropical forests and to improve biogeochemical models. The CarboAfrica network of carbon measurements could provide future unique data sets for better estimating the African carbon balance.

Final-revised paper