The CO concentration of the atmosphere has increased by almost 30% since 1800. This increase is due largely to two factors: the combustion of fossil fuel and deforestation to create croplands and pastures. Deforestation results in a net flux of carbon to the atmosphere because forests contain 20–50 times more carbon per unit area than agricultural lands. In recent decades, the tropics have been the primary region of deforestation. The annual rate of CO released due to tropical deforestation during the early 1990s has been estimated at between 1.2 and 2.3 gigatons C. The range represents uncertainties about both the rates of deforestation and the amounts of carbon stored in different types of tropical forests at the time of cutting. An evaluation of the role of tropical regions in the global carbon budget must include both the carbon flux to the atmosphere due to deforestation and carbon accumulation, if any, in intact forests. In the early 1990s, the release of CO from tropical deforestation appears to have been mostly offset by CO uptake occurring elsewhere in the tropics, according to an analysis of recent trends in the atmospheric concentrations of O and N. Interannual variations in climate and/or CO fertilization may have been responsible for the CO uptake in intact forests. These mechanisms are consistent with site-specific measurements of net carbon fluxes between tropical forests and the atmosphere, and with regional and global simulations using process-based biogeochemistry models.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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