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With the increased interest in supporting and monitoring the implementation of international treaties on the World's Climate, such as Kyoto, the work dedicated to the study of the full range of variables is extensive.

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Timing carbon turnover

03 December 2014

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Scientists are using satellite data to improve understanding of the time it takes for a carbon atom fixed in a plant by photosynthesis to return into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide – known as ‘carbon turnover'.

Forests play a crucial role in Earth's carbon cycle. In general, forests are ‘carbon sinks' as they absorb and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Forests that are logged or burnt down, however, release parts of the stored carbon into the atmosphere.

According to a study published in Nature, the global average carbon turnover is 23 years. But the study shows, for the first time, how this turnover time varies in different regions around the world.

To derive these figures on carbon stores and turnover, the scientists used forest carbon stock estimates from Earth observation data. For boreal and temperate forests, these were based on radar data from ESA's veteran Envisat mission.

About 70 000 Envisat ASAR radar images acquired between October 2009 and February 2011 were fed into a hypertemporal algorithm developed by the Swiss Gamma Remote Sensing corporation and Germany's University of Jena to obtain the required information over the northern hemisphere.

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