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Carbon Exchange in Mountainous Regions. NACP Breakout Session I Wed. 18 Feb 2009, 3:00 pm - 4:30 pm Terrace Salon Three Chair: Ankur Desai, U. Wisconsin. Background. Large ecosystem pressures in North American Mountain regions Rapid climate warming at high elevation

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Carbon exchange in mountainous regions

Carbon Exchange in Mountainous Regions

NACP Breakout Session I

Wed. 18 Feb 2009, 3:00 pm - 4:30 pm

Terrace Salon Three

Chair: Ankur Desai, U. Wisconsin


  • Large ecosystem pressures in North American Mountain regions

    • Rapid climate warming at high elevation

      • Increasing drought length and severity

      • Changes in intensity/frequency of fire

      • Increase in range of pests and invasives

    • Land use change from forestry and population growth

  • Poor constraint on biogeochemical cycling in mountains and complex terrain in general

    • Untested assumptions that high elevation NEE is near 0

    • Yet, mountains contain significant fraction of forest in U.S.

    • Methodological limitations for flux towers, remote sensing, ecosystem models, inversions, inventories, and ecological methods


  • Challenges

    • What is the state of the science on mountain carbon exchange?

    • What is our predictive ability on ecosystem responses to large-scale disturbance, climate range shifts, and elevation specific processes?

  • Opportunities

    • What are the opportunities for NACP to improve observations, models, and decision support in North American mountain regions?


  • Ankur Desai, UW-Madison, Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences

  • Jeff Hicke, U. Idaho, Geography

  • John Bradford, USFS Northern Res. Station

  • Brian McGlynn, Montana State

  • Diego Riveros-Iregui, U. Colorado

  • Betsy Failey, U. Colorado

  • SudeepSamanta, Woods Hole Research Center

  • Don McKenzie,USFS / U. Washington


  • Terrain creates a compression of environmental gradients

    • Makes interpolation/upscaling particularly difficult

    • But easier to assess effects of gradients in drivers in experimental studies

  • Disturbance strongly interacts with terrain

    • Fire, pest, species spread are all elevation sensitive

  • Lateral processes can matter more than in flat areas

    • Hydrology has an overarching role in carbon cycling in terrain. 1-D ecosystem models are likely to miss this.

  • Mesoscale and microscale flows are prevalent

    • Increases uncertainty in observations such as flux-towers (cold air drainage) and tracer transport models and interpolation of surface meteorology

  • Slope and aspect variations affects canopy radiative transfer

    • Increased uncertainty in remotely sensed data and models

  • Difficulty of access for field-based study

    • Sparse data leads to extemporaneous extrapolation

    • Carbon, land, and fire management are particularly difficult but need is high


  • Synthesis of ongoing projects – e.g., ORCA, ACME, BEACHON

    • Assessment of state of the science – data, projects, literature

    • Uncertainty in regional NEE

    • Development of an NCEAS Working Group?

  • MCI-West, where everything can go wrong?

    • How wrong can we be in terms of NACP goals at the subregional scale? Intermountain West (AK->Mexico)? West Coast?

  • Rapid response intensive to episodic extreme disturbance events?

    • Lack of understanding of post-disturbance carbon dynamics, especially after large events

    • Ongoing bark beetle damage could possibly have large effect/add uncertainty on future carbon cycling in North America

  • Data product and model improvement

    • Maps of meteorological drivers (slope/aspect corrections)

    • Assessment of high elevation carbon stocks

    • Transport model uncertainty

    • Carbon-water coupling and lateral flows in ecosystem models

    • Carbon cycle response to fire and insects


  • More information contact:

    • Ankur Desai – [email protected]


  • Carbon management at fine scales?

    • Forest management, fire control overlap

  • Are our data representative of all kinds of mountain systems?

  • We may have data, but even so, we lack process understanding for some systems

    • Microclimate variation and substrate variation

    • Disturbance – drought, fire, insects, harvest?

    • Species shift – done a good bit (maybe), but extrapolation problem – key for forest management and future carbon cycle

    • Modes of spatial hetereogeneity, ways to scale

    • What drivers/processes are elevation, slope, aspect dependent

    • Spatial linkages (lateral) matter more that flat terrain?

Charge to breakout
Charge to Breakout

  • in ~80 minutes:

    • Highlight state of the science on carbon exchange in mountain regions (globally and North America)

      • What do we know?

    • Discuss methodological and theoretical challenges to diagnosing and predicting carbon exchange in terrain

      • What don’t we know?

    • Identify opportunities for future NACP diagnosis, attribution, prediction, decision support in mountain regions

      • What would we like to do?