A study, recently released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, states that a prolonged drought during 2002 in North America cut in half the continent’s natural uptake of carbon dioxide, leaving more than 360 million tons more of the heat-trapping greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. The amount not absorbed that year is equivalent to annual emissions from more than 200 million automobiles in the United States.
Scientists from NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory will present the aforementioned data this and other findings on the North American carbon cycle at a world carbon dioxide in Hawaii this week. The results are the first from a powerful data and modeling system called CarbonTracker, released earlier this year by NOAA.
The study presents the first objective estimate of net atmospheric carbon dioxide exchange across North America every week from 2000 to 2005. The estimate is based on 28,000 global atmospheric observations.
In North America, humans release each year 2 billion tons of carbon as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere through burning fossil fuels and manufacturing cement. Typically, forests, grasslands, crops, and soil absorb about a third of those emissions. The natural ratio was upset in 2002, when North America experienced one of the largest droughts in more than a century.
Conditions hovering over nearly 45 percent of the United States were classified as “extreme” or “exceptional.” The amount of carbon taken up by vegetation and soil plunged from an annual average of 650 million metric tons to 330 million metric tons.
NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 70 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.