ORNL develops new agricultural carbon accounting method

ORNL develops new agricultural carbon accounting method

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US: Carbon dioxide emissions from agricultural activity in the United States can now be tracked with unprecedented resolution, according to Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). A team led by Tristram West, a member of ORNL’s Environmental Sciences Division, used satellite remote sensing, computational resources and high-resolution national inventory datasets to pinpoint agricultural-based carbon emissions nationwide.

The method, outlined in the journal Ecological Applications, provides a link between ground-based estimates and atmospheric measurements for any given agricultural point in the nation. Co-authors from ORNL are Craig Brandt, Latha Baskaran, Varaprasad Bandaru, Bai Yang, Gregg Marland and Wilfred Post. Other authors are from the University of Tennessee, the Department of Agriculture and Kansas State University.

West said, “This is a significant step toward compiling datasets and establishing a method useful for carbon accounting purposes. Until now, we have done project-level reporting and national-level reporting as two independent exercises. The first was for carbon credits while the second was for international reporting to the United Nations.”

Further, West added that with the current system, emissions from economic sectors are reported nationally as required under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Project-level emissions are monitored on a case-by-case basis under independent projects or regional programmes.

Doing both – project- and national-level reporting – in a consistent manner will become increasingly important as the US and other countries move forward with climate agreements and legislation to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, according to West.

“If the U.S. enters into national or international agreements on emissions reductions, a consistent framework for monitoring and reporting net carbon dioxide emissions from the project to national levels will prove more effective and provide more accurate and consistent reporting than independent reporting processes,” West said.

The ORNL method uses land cover data derived from NASA satellites to refine geospatial cropland carbon fluxes nationwide.

This research was funded in part by the NASA Earth Sciences Division and the Department of Energy Biological and Environmental Research Program’s Consortium for Carbon Sequestration in Terrestrial Ecosystems.

Source: ORNL