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National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis

Project Description

With the rise in importance of global climate change, society is actively exploring the possibility of using forest ecosystems as a carbon sink. Tropical forests may offer over two-thirds of such opportunities. The protection of tropical forests could offset global fossil fuel C emissions and reduce the cost of emissions limitations set in Kyoto. Certified emissions credits (CERs) under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) established in Kyoto will likely incorporate tropical forest sinks within efforts to meet emissions targets. While this could in principle result in significant economic and sequestration benefits, actual evidence on tropical C sinks is sparse. However, society must soon make key decisions concerning tropical forest sinks in the CDM.

The first major goal of our project is to estimate how much C sequestration will be generated in Costa Rica in response to any given monetary reward for C sequestration. Our advances in the ecological and economic components will be coupled to produce our first integrated output, an estimated supply or, equivalently, cost function for C sequestration (i.e., a relationship between the C reward and the C sequestration supplied by land users).

Our advances in the economic component start with excellent existing GIS databases on land use and land cover, and on the factors expected to affect land use choices. We will extend both of these types of data sets, in particular extending land-cover information back in time, and adding improved data on land returns. Next, we will both apply and extend the frontier of economic, observationally-based modeling of land use to provide a map from key factors to land choices.

On the ecological side, our advances start with systematic and comprehensive measurement of aboveground and soil C present within the range of forest ecosystems of Costa Rica, as well as the C dynamics within land-use gradients of each of those systems (e.g., pastures, croplands, and secondary forests of varying ages). With this and existing data, we will calibrate and verify both process-based and empirically-based ecological models that generate C predictions of varying complexity. This provides a map to C stocks from land use choices within different ecosystems. Our second goal is to contribute to the effective design of the rules that allow C sequestration in tropical locations to replace emissions reductions in developed countries. Our analyses will provide the necessary information for the baselines that permit CERs to be defined, and a C market to function. We will also perform integrated sensitivity analyses to determine whether simplified versions of our disciplinary and integrated models maintain sufficient accuracy. Sufficient accuracy will ensure the sequestration outcomes envisioned, while greater simplicity, which translates to lower costs of participation in trading, will stimulate further participation, lowering costs and raising efficiency of implementation of the Kyoto emissions limitations.

In order to achieve these goals we need to closely integrate the economic and ecology work creating dynamic feedbacks between physical and ecological characteristics of land and human land use choices. We also need to integrate the process-based and empirical ecological models to maximize the complementarities between them.

Principal Investigator(s)

Suzi Kerr, Alexander Pfaff

Project Dates

Start: January 16, 2001

End: August 14, 2003



Pablo Arroyo
University of Alberta
Miguel Cifuentes-Jara
Oregon State University
Joanna Hendy
Motu Economic and Public Policy Research Trust
R. Flint Hughes
USDA Forest Service
Judith Jobse
Oregon State University
Armond T. Joyce
Margaret Kalascka
University of Alberta
J. Boone Kauffman
USDA Forest Service
Suzi Kerr
Motu Economic and Public Policy Research Trust
Shuguang Liu
US Geological Survey (USGS)
Alexander Pfaff
Columbia University
Juan Andres Robalino
Columbia University
Arturo Sanchez
University of Alberta
David W. Schimel
Max-Planck Institute for Biogeochemisty
Karen Smoyer
University of Alberta
Joseph Tosi
Tropical Science Center
Vicente Watson
Centro Científico Tropical


  1. Presentations / 2001

    Topic: Carbon sequestration

  2. Presentations / 2000

    The dynamics of carbon offset supply from sequestration in forests

  3. Presentations / 2000

    The dynamics of deforestation in Costa Rica: Can incentives to preserve forests be used to tackle global warming?

  4. Presentations / 2001

    Deforestation, carbon-offsets and the clean development mechanism

  5. Presentations / 2001

    Finding a path through the trees: Tropical land-use change and global climate policy

  6. Presentations / 2001

    LULUCF activities and the CDM: Finding a path through the trees

  7. Presentations / 2001

    Modeling land use change, baselines and carbon supply

  8. Report or White Paper / 2001

    Seeing the forest and saving the trees: Tropical land-use change and global climate policy

  9. Presentations / 2001

    The dynamics of deforestation and the supply of carbon sequestration in Costa Rica

  10. Presentations / 2001

    Uncertainty and the contribution of tropical land-use to carbon mitigation

  11. Journal Article / 2008

    Resolving model parameter values from carbon and nitrogen stock measurements in a wide range of tropical mature forests using nonlinear inversion and regression trees

  12. Journal Article / 2000

    The Kyoto Protocol and payments for tropical forest: An interdisciplinary method for estimating carbon-offset supply and increasing the feasibility of a carbon market under the CDM

  13. Journal Article / 2009

    Monitoring carbon stocks in the tropics and the remote sensing operational limitations: from local to regional projects

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