Understanding the carbon cycle of Andean Forests

Amazonia has the world’s most extensive forests, with the largest reservoir of above-ground organic carbon - around 90 Pg C in live trees alone - and the most species. They are under strong human pressure through logging, conversion and exploitation of resources. They face a warming climate and a changing atmosphere. Because of the vast scale of Amazonia, these factors have the potential to significantly modify the global atmospheric greenhouse gas burden (CO2, CH4), the earth’s climate, and the overall biodiversity of the planet. Some scenarios suggest catastrophic release of carbon from Amazon soil and vegetation this century, accelerating climate change globally even before accounting for the impacts of deforestation.

While the role of Amazonia in the carbon cycle is clearly of global importance, its behavior is contentious, even for that portion not undergoing rapid land use change. Understanding the current carbon balance of the whole system is critical to determine its role in either slowing or accelerating climate change through the 21st century. In particular, there is a need to:
- quantify the dominant fluxes into and out of main carbon pools in biomass and soil, the environmental controls of these fluxes,
- establish the infrastructure - plots, methods, expertise - to allow long-term monitoring across the vast region, and
- make these data freely available after sufficient quality control.

The Ecosystem Dynamics group at OUCE is helping the only group currently active in integrating on-the-ground primary forest monitoring across the whole Amazon basin (RAINFOR) to tackle these urgent needs. Our overall goal is to determine the current carbon balance of Amazon forests, together with the associated fluxes and their sensitivity to soil and climate variability. A subsidiary goal is to improve the scientific infrastructure for future monitoring of Amazon biomass and soil carbon. The project is led by the University of Leeds and also has INPA (Brazilian Institute for Amazonian Research) as a major partner, and 30 other institutional partners world-wide. Specifically, we are responsible for establishing a network of 16 intensive RAINFOR monitoring plots at 6 sites across the Amazon (in Brazil, Bolivia and Peru). At these plots, comprehensive monthly surveys of all key carbon stocks and fluxes will (1) Provide definitive baseline estimates of current forest carbon storage, and (2) Track ongoing changes in forest carbon cycling.

Photos and images

Uploaded 6 Feb 2014 by Cécile Girardin. Copyright © 2022.

Congratulations to the GEM team (Chris, Yadvinder & Liana) who co-authored a paper in Nature this week (cover story):

"The paper answers a long-standing question about the net carbon balance of the Amazon forest. It uses aircraft flights throughout the year at four different locations to measure the change in carbon dioxide concentration if air as it passes over the Amazon Basin. The study shows that in wet years and wet seasons the Amazon is a net sink (i.e. absorbs carbon) from the atmosphere, but in dry years and dry seasons it is carbon neutral or a source of carbon. Our main contribution in Oxford was to provide insight from our RAINFOR-GEM intensive monitoring plots across Amazonia, which suggest that the loss of the carbon sink was caused by a reduction in photosynthesis." (Y. Malhi blog, Feb 2014)

Gatti L.V., M. Gloor, J. B. Miller, C. E. Doughty, Y. Malhi, L. G. Domingues, L. S. Basso, A. Martinewski, C. S. C. Correia, V. F. Borges, S. Freitas, R. Braz, L. O. Anderson, H. Rocha, J. Grace, O. L. Phillips & J. Lloyd Drought sensitivity of Amazonian carbon balance revealed by atmospheric measurements, Nature 506, 76–80. Supplementary Info

Download the paper from here:

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  • Thumb_malhi_pic_forest

    Yadvinder Malhi

    I am Professor of Ecosystem Science at Oxford University.
    I lead the Ecosystems Programme at the Environmental Change Institute, with a focus of understanding the functioning of tropical forests and...

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    Greg Goldsmith

    I am a tropical plant physiological ecologist with a particular interest in plant-water relations. My doctoral research, based at the University of California, Berkeley, focused on the impacts of drought...

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  • Thumb_cg_profile_photo

    Cécile Girardin

    I coordinate carbon cycling data for the GEM network. I am an ecosystems scientist focussing on carbon dynamics of tropical forest ecosystems. Following my PhD at Oxford University School of...

  • Thumb_img_20181216_215424

    Vilma Champi Ayma

    Im a Biologist with degree at the National University of San Antonio Abad del Cusco - Perú, with interest to make studies regarding the climatic change.

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    Gregory Asner

    no details
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    Norma Salinas

    I am a postdoctoral research assistant at the University of Oxford. I am working with plant traits along altitudinal gradients in tropical forests. My research involve many aspects of tropical...

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    Sandra Diaz

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Uploaded documents

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    Sketch maps.docx

    Uploaded by: Beisit Luz Puma Vilca
    May 8, 2013

    Here are sketch maps of 4 permanent plots from ANDES ZONE in PERU,
    Trocha Unión 4 (TU4)
    Acjanaco (ACJ)