Intensive land-management leaves Europe without carbon sinks

Away from Climategate and back to science, here’s something interesting fingering land use as an issue. This is from the Max Planck Society.

A new calculation of Europe’s greenhouse gas balance shows that emissions of methane and nitrous oxide tip the balance and eliminate Europe’s terrestrial sink of greenhouse-gases.

Fig.1: In order to compute whether European landscapes store or release greenhouse gases, climatologists have for the first time also considered methane and nitrogen oxide emissions from livestock farming and intensive agriculture. The bottom line is that forests, grasslands and agriculture fields, particularly in central Europe, freely release greenhouse gas (in carbon dioxide equivalents / red colouring in diagram). In this way they balance out the effect which Russian forests have as a source of carbon dioxide storage (blue colouring), almost completely. Click for larger image.


Of all global carbon dioxide emissions, less than half accumulate in the atmosphere where it contributes to global warming. The remainder is hidden away in oceans and terrestrial ecosystems such as forests, grasslands and peat-lands. Stimulating this “free service” of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems is considered one of the main, immediately available ways of reducing climate change. However, new greenhouse gas bookkeeping has revealed that for the European continent this service isn’t free after all. These findings are presented in the most recent edition of Nature Geoscience (Advanced Online Publication, November 22, 2009).

Researchers from 17 European countries cooperating in the EU-Integrated Project CarboEurope, led by Detlef Schulze, of the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena, Germany have compiled the first comprehensive greenhouse gas balance of Europe. They made two independent estimates: one based on what the atmosphere sees and one based on what terrestrial ecosystems see.

The new bookkeeping effort confirmed the existence of a strong carbon sink of -305 Million tonnes of carbon per year in European forests and grasslands. A sink of this magnitude could offset 19% of the emission from fossil fuel burning. However, agricultural land and drained peat-land are emitting CO2, which cancels part of this sink. The resulting net CO2 sink of the European continent is 274 Million tonnes of carbon per year – only 15% of the emissions from fossil fuel burning. But this balance is still incomplete, because all European ecosystems are managed and as a by-product of land management other powerful greenhouse gases are released – for example nitrous oxide from fertilizers applied to grassland and crops, and methane from ruminants and from peat-lands. These previously neglected emissions of greenhouse gases from land-use cancel out almost the entire carbon sink, leaving the landscape offsetting only some 2% of the CO2 emissions from households, transport and industry.

Compared to Europe as a whole, the situation is even worse for the 25 states of the European Union. Here, although forests and grasslands can compensate for 13% of the CO2 emitted by fossil fuel burning, emission of powerful greenhouse gases from agricultural emissions and peat mining reduces the effectiveness of the land surface sink to 111 Million tonnes of carbon per year, which is only 11% of the CO2 emitted by fossil fuels. However, since the emissions of methane and nitrous oxide are relatively higher in the European Union the land surface emerges as a greenhouse gas source of 34 Million tonnes of carbon per year. This effectively increases the emissions from fossil fuel burning by another 3%.

Prof Schulze said “These findings show that if the European landscape is to contribute to mitigating global warming, we need a new, different emphasis on land management. Methane and nitrous oxide are such powerful greenhouse gases; we must manage the landscape to decrease their emissions.”

Related links:

[1] Supplementary figures

Original work:

E. D. Schulze, S. Luyssaert, P. Ciais, A. Freibauer, I. A. Janssens et al., 2009

Importance of methane and nitrous oxide for Europe’s terrestrial greenhouse-gas balance

Nature Geoscience, November 22, 2009, DOI 10.1038/ngeo686 PDF (225 KB)


36 thoughts on “Intensive land-management leaves Europe without carbon sinks

  1. O/T (apologies to those who have had enough) Main stream media coverage:
    The pick of the MSM coverage at the moment (Mon evening USA) has got to be our man from Oz in Copenhagen Tim Flannery – most revealing to watch this man talk. Good intro (w/ Andrew Bolt) and Tony Jones redeems himself:
    Coverage is more or less dividing into 3 level, with a tendency to go harder as the days go by
    Some examples not (?) yet linked on WUWT:-
    Fin Times Editorial:
    The Australian Age:
    2.EVIDENCE OF SCIENTISTS BEHAVING BADLY (and should be investigated)
    3.EVIDENCE OF DISTORTION OF DATA AND FOI OBSTRUCTION (and should be investigated):
    Wall Street JOurnal going in harder:
    The Australian front page suppliment feature:
    Science Mag
    Australian ABC radio AM:
    Herald Sun (buried here):

  2. Under UNCLOS III we are invoking “continental shelf” or “EEZ” (whichever is greater) and that will probably see us breaking even.

  3. Well fancy that. And North America; well that part that is the United States, is evidently a net carbon SINK.
    “”” Science 16 October 1998:
    Vol. 282. no. 5388, pp. 442 – 446
    DOI: 10.1126/science.282.5388.442
    Prev | Table of Contents | Next
    A Large Terrestrial Carbon Sink in North America Implied by Atmospheric and Oceanic Carbon Dioxide Data and Models
    S. Fan, M. Gloor, J. Mahlman, S. Pacala, J. Sarmiento, T. Takahashi, P. Tans “””
    In fact that region of NA; essentially below the Canadian border is evidently the ONLY large land mass on earth that is a net Carbon sink. I suspect Canada would be, except their growing season is so short because of the latitude.
    So so much for the USA being the bad guy in the CO2 festivities; we’re in fact the only large good guy. But that is not the agenda is it?

  4. …Roger Peilke Snr must be laughing…how long has he been banging on about landuse change to deaf ears?
    Also…I can see this going down like a lead balloon with France….
    What you say…agriculture…say it ain’t so.
    Over in the states you guys may not be so aware of the Common Agricultural Policy or whatever its been rebranded as now, but suffice to say France is not going to change anything that affects thier farmers. Heh heh.

  5. Away from climate, back to the science! That’s a fallacy as this article is all about land management, mitigation and Global Warming.
    Yes, it is horrible.
    We not only have to stop the use of carbon fuels but we also have to change the entire use of our land, those evil farmers.
    First taxes, and when the people run out of money, no energy, no food……….no people! Mission accomplished.
    What I see from my window, is a farmer who has his cows and his swines in the stable all year long. He produces milk and meat. Once in while, before it’s raining he takes his tractor and sprays the manure from his animals over his fields and every few weeks he mows the grass, dries it and stores it for to to feed it to his animals again. It looks like a beneficial cycle to me, for us having all that milk cheese and meat.
    He is doing this for years but only since last year the cows are no longer aloud to stay in the field.
    I wonder what other land management we should introduce to achieve a solution for a non existing problem because obviously we have to get rid of this farmer.
    The only solution I have found is to kill all the cows, the pigs and the people but hey…than we have nobody left to monitor the land use don’t we.
    So why don’t we concentrate on real problems and forget about all the Global Warming and Climate Change stuff before someone gets hurt.

  6. I am not sure I understand the purpose of this study. Will there now be efforts to punish arid countries because they do not have large forests? A more interesting study would be to compute the net effect of land use changes to grow biofuels. Start with the assumption that growing biofuels must occur on new land not currently used for food. Given all of the inefficiencies of the biofuels, does the net effect increase or decrease carbon dioxide emissions compared to using fossil fuels? This would be a useful paper.
    Of course, if a “peer reviewed” paper was published in a journal that has ever accepted any paper by any member of the “team” without a history of enforced iron clad rules on data disclosure, I would not believe it.

  7. PaulS (17:17:32) :
    Now why would Ireland, South East England, Holland and the Pyranees show up as red? Confused!

    SE England is where most hot air originates (enhanced by CO2 of course). Depending on prevailing winds I can then cover Holland and N Germany for weeks. Don’t know about the rest – probably dodgy pixels on the sensor.

  8. So the ecofascists are trying to shift from the atmosphere and global warming, now to land use and catastrophic changes to poor Gaia’s balance via this redirection…. They never stop trying do they.
    They are going to go with the only fact that they posses. Humans produce CO2 and clear land, and they will push it for as much as it is worth…. even if they have to make everything else up;-)

  9. So throwing in all the greenhouse gases together negates the CO2 sink, even though the CO2 sink still is absorbing CO2 at the rate calculated earlier? How does that compute, exactly? Do these gases really act synergistically? Also, does Germany still fertilize its forests – and is this being taken into account?

  10. To water, water vapor, cloud formation and percipitation CO2, methane and nitrogen oxide emissions in the atmosphere is just noise.

  11. Ron de Haan (18:03:09) : “Away from climate, back to …”
    The lead-in was “Away from Climategate and back to science…”
    As to the article, I find it interesting, not surprising, and of little concern with regard to AGW. Are there land use issues? Sure. Can the problems be mitigated. Yes. Effect on global climate because of GHG? Zip.

  12. “Now why would Ireland, South East England, Holland and the Pyranees show up as red? Confused!”
    Ireland is peat bogs, England is industry and traffic, North central western europe is industry and traffic. The spot around Lille is probably industry. Pyraness?
    Northern Italy is industry.

  13. Re the peat bogs, many thanks, but places of industry and wind direction? Call me a sceptic, but surely anywhere with a big city should be red, Paris, Madrid, Rome etc. Is there big industry in northern Italy? Surely this is wine producing terratory.

  14. And we still!!!…think AGW is real? –
    Let’s get to it and talk about the MUCH higher naturally occurring CO2 say 3 ICE Ages ago +/-… before mans use of ‘fossil’ fuels…
    Volcano’s – oops (can not speak about those)
    SunSpots – oops (can not speak about those either)
    Not one CO2 researcher can be trusted, … and not until the current crop is behind bars.
    Anthony – we need to add a disclaimer for all of those newbie’s who just arrived… I think they will be more confused than ever… about what they may believe.

  15. The essence of the publication is that even if we stop burning fossil fuels, we have to attend to the land use.
    The message is oil = bad and agriculture = bad.
    Well, for the record, millions of people are living happily in those red spot area’s and you know what, they are flourishing, their life expectancy is going up and up and up.
    I don’t see how that can be a problem.
    If you want to know about a real problem, read this and realize that we’re all a bunch of lucky bastards living in such a beautiful times:

  16. What? Still using that greasy C02 stuff?
    That trace gas is about as thin as CRU’s credibility rating right now.
    Hey, Europe. When they turn off your power, Putin cuts off your gas and you are clinging desperately to life itself some future winter, remember that can of Coke or Pepsi you have stashed away. Pop it open, light and candle, and before you know it, you’ll be sweating to the Greenhouse Oldies again. All that forcing, omigosh.
    Just don’t let your kids see you drag your intellectual knuckles on the ground. They’ll report you to the Carbon Police.

  17. Max Planck, and indeed all true scientists of a bygone era must be spinning in his grave at the abuse of science being done in his name. “Scientists” have become mere bookkeepers, toting up various gasses supposedly causing climate change. Sad for them, wasting their talents and careers doing something so completely useless, and even harmful for mankind, and sad for humanity, which has seemingly taken a step backward into another Dark Age, at least temporarily.

  18. @Robert “Ireland is peat bogs ”
    This is why all real Irish people have webbed feet 🙂
    Actually we have a real big problem with nitrates and a lot of our water sources are polluted, maybe that’s why we are on the map as it were.

  19. I find it hard to believe that Finland of all places with its extensive forests is listed as a net CO2 emitter. Same as Ireland. Also Scotland I would have thought would be at least neutral although it has not got Finland’s large forest coverage. A lot of heavy industry has disappeared over the last 30 years.

  20. The chart is of net CO2 emission from land use, ignoring cities, transport etc. I can definitely give you the reason for the red blob in East Anglia – soil loss through erosion and oxidation of the peat. I used to live on the rivers there and work in many of the wetland nature reserves, and in many places the land is significantly lower (6′ or more) than the river where it used to be the same height before it was drained. All that soil has oxidised to CO2 (there’s very little fluvial erosion since the rivers are slow moving and effectively canalised). I’m pretty sure the same is true of Holland.
    Other high-net-emission areas are probably due to intensive grassland – both through fertiliser use (embedded oil) and direct emissions from livestock.
    This kind of study just brings back why all the traditional issues us ‘practical’ Greens have been concerned with – industrial monoculture, soil erosion, deforestation – are still just as important as the current obsession with direct fossil fuel emissions.
    The really important point here is that it’s all related – although I’m still not convinced by Lovelock’s 6C disaster scenario on the basis of current evidence, one of his most telling points is that although Earth has had effective negative feedback systems (forests, for one) to retain homeostasis throughout its history, we are systematically wrecking them, at the same time as presenting a major challenge to the equilibrium. I just hope he’s wrong…

  21. Re-reading the article above it seems they are counting direct NO2 emissions from fertilisers, but possibly not the indirect CO2 from the energy embedded in its manufacture. I guess that’s arguably consistent, but actually makes the situation look better than it really is.

  22. John Peter (05:36:30) :
    Looking at the paper, Finland is a net biological CO2 sink. It’s methane does Finland in; I didn’t read carefully enough to see why. Heavy industry? The figure above does NOT include emissions from burning fossil fuels. If you add in those emissions, the continent becomes a net source.
    Incidentally, the corresponding figure in the paper looks incorrect; the one above from the press release looks right. I hope that means somebody caught the error.

  23. Smoking gun. Most of the wild population of methane producing animals are gone and the rest are penned. The number of cattle in pastures and pens that replaced this population is NO WHERE near the numbers of wild ruminating animals that once roamed free, chewing up the grasslands into dust and eating tender tree sprouts thus keeping forests in check.
    We still act as if the Earth is barely out of its infancy and the pittance of humans on the Earth have somehow caused an unbalanced gaseous state. In truth, the Earth has never been balanced. If it were, we would probably get mass extinctions. The cycle of life depends on an out of balance system in order to survive. We haven’t even begun to match what nature does to keep the system out of balance. It is the likely case that any attempt we make to somehow bring the Earth into balance will likely trigger a rather large response by said Earth to throw it once again out of balance.

  24. @John Peter
    “I find it hard to believe that Finland of all places with its extensive forests is listed as a net CO2 emitter.”
    What is really weird is that the more heavily populated parts of Finland (South & South-west) show up as basically carbon neutral, but the part that just about nobody lives in shows up as net emitter. I mean, that part of Finland is just about empty with nothing but forest and random small farms here and there. The largest town on that red area is Rovaniemi, but I don’t think it’s 59’000 residents and total lack of heavy industry would cause that.
    Something is definitely not right with this graph.

  25. “”” Marco (07:50:49) :
    @John Peter
    “I find it hard to believe that Finland of all places with its extensive forests is listed as a net CO2 emitter.” “””
    Well I think you just cited the likely reason for that fact; same thing applies to Canada.
    It’s so cold up there, and so little sunlight that those trees just don’t grow fast enough to compensate for man made or natural carbon emissions.

  26. ******
    George E. Smith (17:19:16) :
    Well fancy that. And North America; well that part that is the United States, is evidently a net carbon SINK.
    Interesting, but should be obvious — the areas of carbon sink are where forests are regrowing. Sweden has excellent forest management, and NW Russia perhaps hasn’t much re-cut their NW forests to a large extent yet. A similar map for N Amer would be interesting.
    Sort of explains the US carbon sink too. After almost all of the US eastern hardwood forest was cut by the 1930s, large areas have and continue to grow back, particularly in the mountainous areas. The rural county where I’m in MD is a remarkable 95% forested now, with a relatively small amount of well-managed timber harvesting. Replanting isn’t necessary here as most of the tree species quickly resprout from the stumps (the existing forests are almost all resprouts from previous cuttings).
    Summer high-temps have dropped considerably here since the ’30s & to a lesser extent the ’60s when 100F+ temps were common, prb’ly due to the forests. Annual precip has also risen near 10% since the ’30s (but only getting back to the ~1900 levels).

  27. “”” beng (08:51:17) :
    George E. Smith (17:19:16) :
    Well fancy that. And North America; well that part that is the United States, is evidently a net carbon SINK.
    Interesting, but should be obvious — the areas of carbon sink are where forests are regrowing. “””
    Why don’t you select yourself a nice cigar there Beng !
    It has been observed that forests can do one of three things. They can simply evaporate as fallen trees rot, and return the material to the ground and the atmosphere; plus there is the California solution where we simply incinerate them each year.
    Alternatively, they can continue to manufacture wood, until the forest becomes one impenetrable solid block of wood, byt taking up carbon from the atmosphere. This solution to the differential equation has never actually been observed to occur; so it is more an academic curiosity.
    The other thing that forest can do, and most do this, is remain in a state of dynamic equilibrium, where new trees and foliage take up carbon seasonally, but old dead trees rot, and return the carbon to the atmosphere; so they remain carbon neutral; neither helping the carbon footprint; nor hindering it.
    The correct scientific term for this last forest behavior is “Old Growth”, and environmental activists pursue this ultimate in non useful steady states, with a passion. Well in truth the non-useful term is only as regards human use. That mode of stability does serve the interests of skunks, and yellow slugs.
    Active tree farming as widely practiced in the USA, and also in New Zealand (very efficiently), tends to maintain the continuous growth cycle, as new trees are planted in wide open (clear cut) areas, to maximise carbon uptake rates. Eventually the trees collide with each other, and efficient carbon uptake slows since each tree is now space constrained. This can then stop lower branch growth in conifers, which tends to turn pine trees into telephone poles (the AT&T tree), which is very effective for logging, and carbon uptake.
    Ye, I bet those arctic forests (is that arboreal) of Finland, are quite beautiful; and stagnant too.
    Fortunately, in the USA we are able to grow many variaties even in farmed forests, so the whole place is not just pinus radiata ad infinitum.
    NZ grows a lot of “Oregon Pine”; aka Douglas fir; which is much faster growing than the immaculate Kauri Pine; the King of the forest.
    Global warming would be good for Canuckland; which has the land and the trees but not the sunshine and growing season to fully produce from their vast forests. If you haven’t ever driven the AlCan through the Yukon; you don’t know what a real forest looks like. Well arboreal forest anyway; I’ll give you the Amazon as a no brainer.

  28. I have been saying for a long time, ever since the Princeton Studies of 2000, that USA and all of North America, north of 51degrees, is a giant carbon sink.
    So despite producing 25% of the World’s goods with less than 6% of the World’s population, and having plenty of natural sources if CO2, we bio-sequester all that and more. We even sequester some of Eurasia’s excess, and don’t even charge a dime for doing so. CO2, such that it is a genuine problem, and not a complete H-O-A-X, is other people’s problem. We have done our part, and more.
    In other Words, we North Americans have solved our CO2 problem, rest of the World get on the Stick. It has been costly, but we made the tough land use set-asides decisions over time.
    It is not all inaccessible and useless land that was set aside too. What do you think the commercial value of the land in NYC Central Park is? Or Grant’s Park in Chicago? Its perfect to put skyscrapers on, so its pretty valuable space, but we E-V-I-L capitalist Americans have foregone the almighty dollar, and set it aside anyway. We should be rewarded for all that sacrifice, and forgone income. Meanwhile, Go away. Hector someone else, and leave us alone. Now take your Cap & Tax, and insert it where the sun don’t shine, to plug up another source of CH4.
    Much of what passes for environmentalism is just so much general Rubbish. The Amazon is NOT a carbon Sink. Despite all the blather to save the Rain Forests. It is a mature forest where, on net, little carbon bio-sequestration occurs. Trees die and rot and others grow to take their place bu the bio-mass is pretty constant.
    In North America our sage forefathers established vast parks, wilderness, and areas dedicated to Husbandry, Agriculture and Silviculture. All these areas provide places for wildlife, domestic runinants, and large sources of lumber and paper. They also bio-sequester prodigious quantities of CO2.
    The knothead greens think cows are problem with their methane production. Gee in retrospect, it was a great idea to kill off the North American Buffalo whose vast herds covered the land from horizon to horizon. All eating praerie and belching methane from both ends from their bigger bodies.
    So if you want to reduce the Methane, (Why?), then I propose a typical knotheaded green proposal, I’m sure the Greens will support. We have a massive hunt and kill off all the ruminants in the Sarengetti. Who knew we don’t need Gnus? or Impalas, Zebras et al.
    Then we go ahead and cut down the Amazon for lumber and paper; and start growing much more effective bio-sequestration plants.

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