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Follow the carbon

NOAA’s CarbonTracker gives online portrait of global and continental fluxes

carbon tracker

This CarbonTracker snapshot of surface uptake for one week in July 2005 shows the strongest North American sinks of CO2 (blue) are across the coniferous forests of western Canada and the U.S. Upper Midwest. (Image courtesy NOAA.)

Scientists who study the exchange of carbon between land, ocean, and atmosphere have a powerful new tool at their disposal. NOAA’s CarbonTracker was unveiled in March.

CarbonTracker allows a wide variety of users to call up maps of the estimated net flux of carbon across the globe (both including and excluding land areas) as well as North America. Values can be calculated on a weekly, monthly, or annual basis for intervals between 2000 and 2005. (Because it takes months to assemble and double-check carbon flux data from various parts of the globe, the site is not intended to provide real-time maps.) In addition to the data available online, the CarbonTracker team can generate biological carbon fluxes over a global 1-by-1-degree grid at three-hourly resolution.

CarbonTracker was built through intensive collaboration between NOAA; NASA; the U.S. Department of Energy; the Meteorological Service of Canada; Columbia University; the University of California, Irvine; Duke University; and several other institutes and universities in the Netherlands, Italy, and the United States.

“The open access to CarbonTracker means that anyone can scrutinize our work and suggest improvements,” says Pieter Tans, chief of the carbon cycle group at NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Laboratory. Figures, data, and even the source code are all freely available, says Tans. He and his colleagues ask that researchers who plan to rely heavily on CarbonTracker contact them before publication to ensure proper usage and co-authorship where appropriate.

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