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Contributions of nitrogen deposition and forest regrowth to terrestrial carbon uptake
Galina Churkina1, Kristina Trusilova1, Mona Vetter1 and Frank Dentener2
1Max-Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Hans-Knöllstr. 10, 07745 Jena, Germany2European Commission, Institute for Environment and Sustainability, Joint Research Center, Ispra, Italy
The amount of reactive nitrogen deposited on land has doubled globally and become at least five-times higher in Europe, Eastern United States, and South East Asia since 1860 mostly because of increases in fertilizer production and fossil fuel burning. Because vegetation growth in the Northern Hemisphere is typically nitrogen-limited, increased nitrogen deposition could have an attenuating effect on rising atmospheric CO2 by stimulating the vegetation productivity and accumulation of carbon in biomass.
This study shows that elevated nitrogen deposition would not significantly enhance land carbon uptake unless we consider its effects on re-growing forests. Our results suggest that nitrogen enriched land ecosystems sequestered 0.62–2.33 PgC in the 1980s and 0.75–2.21 PgC in the 1990s depending on the proportion and age of re-growing forests. During these two decades land ecosystems are estimated to have absorbed 13–41% of carbon emitted by fossil fuel burning.
Although land ecosystems and especially forests with lifted nitrogen limitations have the potential to decelerate the rise of CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, the effect is only significant over a limited period of time. The carbon uptake associated with forest re-growth and amplified by high nitrogen deposition will decrease as soon as the forests reach maturity. Therefore, assessments relying on carbon stored on land from enhanced atmospheric nitrogen deposition to balance fossil fuel emissions may be inaccurate.
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