Skip to content Skip to navigation

A U.S. carbon cycle science plan: First meeting of the Carbon Cycle Science Working Group; Washington, D.C., 17-18 November 2008

Michalak AM, R Jackson, G Marland, C Sabine
EOS, Trans. American Geophys. Union
Journal Volume/Pages: 
90: 102-103

The report “A U.S. carbon cycle science plan” (J. L. Sarmiento and S. C. Wofsy, U.S. Global Change Res. Program, Washington, D. C., 1999) outlined research priorities and promoted coordinated carbon cycle research across federal agencies for nearly a decade. Building on this framework and subsequent reports (available at, the Carbon Cycle Science Working Group (CCSWG) was formed in 2008 to develop an updated strategy for the next decade. The recommendations of the CCSWG will go to agency managers who have collective responsibility for setting national carbon cycle science priorities and for sponsoring much of the carbon cycle research in the United States.

The first meeting of the CCSWG took place in November, with the overall goals of achieving consensus on the extent to which the 1999 plan should be updated, developing a list of overarching scientific questions to be addressed by the new plan, and identifying mechanisms for maximizing community input.

The meeting included presentations that focused on the history of the 1999 plan, the agencies’ perspective on carbon cycle science, the North American Carbon Program, the “State of the carbon cycle report” released in 2007 by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program and the Subcommittee on Global Change Research, and strategies for fostering community involvement. Breakout sessions and group discussions focusing on the specific goals of the workshop made up the majority of the agenda.

Three overarching scientific questions were tentatively proposed by the working group for the new plan:
What processes and feedbacks or mechanisms control the dynamics of atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane, and how?
What are the impacts of the changing carbon cycle, and associated changes in climate, on ecosystems?
How will carbon stocks and fluxes respond to policy and carbon management strategies?

The working group agreed that significant progress had been made on many of the objectives of the 1999 plan but that the revised plan should include more explicit recognition of the fact that humans are an integral part of the carbon cycle, and more detail concerning the research required for decision support, carbon management, and improving prediction of the future carbon cycle. Questions 1 and 3 are intended to directly incorporate these new themes. An additional proposed change in scope was to include the direct effects of the carbon cycle on ecosystems (e.g., ocean acidification), as summarized in question 2. The group also reaffirmed the need for coordinated research across disciplines.

The second meeting of CCSWG occurred at the North American Carbon Program All-Investigators’ Meeting, 17–20 February 2009. This meeting also included a plenary presentation and a breakout session to garner community input. Members of the scientific community are encouraged to provide input throughout the development of the plan at