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Horizontal displacement of carbon associated with agriculture and its impacts on atmospheric CO2


Freibauer,  A.
Department Biogeochemical Processes, Prof. E.-D. Schulze, Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Max Planck Society;

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Ciais, P., Bousquet, P., Freibauer, A., & Naegler, T. (2007). Horizontal displacement of carbon associated with agriculture and its impacts on atmospheric CO2. Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 21(2), GB2014. doi:10.1029/2006GB002741.

[1] The growth of crops represents a sink of atmospheric CO2, whereas biomass is consumed by humans and housed animals, yielding respiratory sources of CO2. This process induces a lateral displacement of carbon and creates geographic patterns of CO2 sources and sinks at the surface of the globe. We estimated the global carbon flux harvested in croplands to be 1290 TgC/yr. Most of this carbon is transported into domestic trade, whereas a small fraction (13%) enters into international trade circuits. We then calculated the global patterns of CO2 fluxes associated with food and feedstuff trade, using country-based agricultural statistics and activity maps of human and housed animal population densities. The CO2 flux maps show regional dipoles of sources and sinks in Asia and North America. The effect of these fluxes on atmospheric CO2 was simulated using a global atmospheric transport model. The mean latitudinal CO2 gradients induced by the displacement of crop products are fairly small (approximate to 0.2 ppm) compared with observations (4-5 ppm), indicating that this process has a only a small influence in explaining the latitudinal distribution of CO2 fluxes. On the other hand, the simulated longitudinal mean atmospheric CO2 gradients at northern midlatitudes (approximate to up to 0.5 ppm) are comparable to the ones measured between atmospheric stations, suggesting that CO2 fluxes from crop products trade are an important component of continental- and regional-scale CO2 budgets. Thus they should be accounted for as prior information in regional inversions. [References: 29]