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Carbon sinks: Issues, markets, policy

SEPTEMBER 24, 2008 -- With reducing carbon emissions on the national agenda, a group of expert panelists will discuss methods, markets, testing and policy issues on how carbon sinks or carbon sequestration may be used to reduce atmospheric CO2.

Carbon sequestration is the process through which carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere is absorbed by trees, plants and crops through photosynthesis, and stored as carbon in biomass (tree trunks, branches, foliage and roots) and soils. The term "sinks" is also used to refer to forests, croplands, and grazing lands, and their ability to sequester carbon. Agriculture and forestry activities can also release CO2 to the atmosphere. So, a carbon sink occurs when carbon sequestration is greater than carbon releases over some time period.

The keynote symposium, "Carbon Sequestration: Methods, Markets and Policy," includes presentations by six experts. The symposium is being held on Wednesday, 8 Oct from 3:00 to 5:10 pm in the General Assembly Theater Hall C of the George R. Brown Convention Center, Houston, TX, as part of the 2008 Joint Annual Meeting of five scientific societies.

According to a National Academy of Sciences 2001 report, "Greenhouse gases are accumulating in the Earth's atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise."

In addition to temperature, human-induced climate change may also affect growing seasons, precipitation and the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, such as fire. These changes can influence forests, farming and the health of ecosystems, and thus carbon sequestration.

Speakers at this session will environmental controls on the soil carbon cycle; forest carbon sequestration; testing commercial-scale geologic carbon sequestration; issues with ocean carbon sequestration; and legal and regulatory challenges facing carbon sequestration:

  • Ronald Amundson will discuss how nearly 20% of anthropogenic CO2 emissions are from land-use changes, but reducing this loss requires understanding the natural and management-specific impacts on soil carbon. The main control on the soil carbon cycle is climate. Radiocarbon measurements have shown that decomposition accelerates with increasing temperature and that under projected warming scenarios soils should release CO2 and provide a positive feedback to warming.

  • Richard Birdsey will discuss how U.S. forests currently offset about 15% of emissions of CO2 from fossil fuels and how this baseline rate could be doubled or more through activities including avoided deforestation, afforestation, improved forest management, and substitution of wood for other materials.

  • Brian McPherson will discuss a project designing and deploying several pilot tests to validate the most promising CO2 sequestration technologies and infrastructure concepts, including a major deep saline sequestration demonstration.

  • Haroon Kheshgi will discuss how a range of ocean carbon sequestration concepts are compared to other options including other forms of carbon sequestration.

  • Putting aside the technical and engineering aspects of carbon capture and sequestration, Allison D. Wood will discuss how legal and policy issues need to be addressed with regard to the issue.

  • The symposium will be moderated by Jerry Hatfield, USDA-Agricultural Research Service and Past-President, American Society of Agronomy.


Contact: Sara Uttech
American Society of Agronomy

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