North America Absorbing Carbon Dioxide At Surprisingly High Rate, Team Reports


Science Daily – October 20, 1998

I have been hesitant to talk about this study that is nearly 10 years old now but I have searched high and low and I cannot find a single reference that refutes the study.  In this study that occured from 1988-1992, it was found that the CO2 levels in the air decreased as the natural westerly flow moved air from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean.  The theory is that the CO2 concentration on the West coast would be X, the generated CO2 production by US citizens would be Y, and the CO2 concentration on the East coast would be some level above X but probably below X+Y since some sinking of carbon would occur.

The problem is that the level on the East coast was found to be lower than the level on West coast.  This could mean that all of the human based CO2 created by US citizens was absorbed by the terrain plus some of the CO2 that was already in the air coming from the Pacific.

There are some obvious concerns with this logic as air does not flow evenly across North America from West to East.  It goes North and South sometimes as well.  I know that the US government has dedicated some amount of research money to trying to analyze the carbon dioxide flows across the continent but, to date, I cannot find any reliable sources that say this original study comes to the wrong conclusion.  I repeat my typical tirade – we need to study this more fully to understand it.

Ecosystems in North America are absorbing carbon dioxide at a rate that is greater than expected, according to findings by a team of scientists from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Princeton University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The findings of the research team, the Carbon Modeling Consortium (, are published Oct. 16 in the journal Science. The carbon-absorbing zone, known to scientists as a carbon sink, soaked up huge quantities of carbon dioxide during the period studied, 1988 to 1992, confirming earlier studies.

As an air mass travels from west to east, it should receive carbon dioxide and the East Coast concentration of CO2 should be higher than on the West Coast. But observations tell us otherwise. The mean atmospheric CO2 concentration on the East Coast has been observed to be lower than that over the Pacific coast. This means that more CO2 is taken up by land ecosystems over the United States than is released by industrial activities.

The results suggest the presence of a carbon sink, which occurs when carbon dioxide absorbed by plants as they grow exceeds carbon dioxide released by dead material as it decays. Although the method does not identify the causes, there are a number of possible mechanisms that could be responsible for the sink. Forest regrowth in areas where generations of pioneers leveled trees to create farmland almost certainly plays an important role. Millions of acres east of the Mississippi have returned to forest.

Nonetheless, the identification of the location and timing of a major ecosystem that absorbs carbon dioxide is an important step toward an understanding of the global carbon cycle, they said. Such an understanding is essential to managing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Read this article here.

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