National Aeronautics and Space Administration


Date of this Version



Environmental Science & Policy 13 (2010) 373-383; doi:10.1016/j.envsci.2010.04.008


The carbon budget of a region can be defined as the sum of annual fluxes of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) greenhouse gases (GHGs) into and out of the regional surface coverage area. According to the state government’s recent inventory, California’s carbon budget is presently dominated by 115 MMTCE per year in fossil fuel emissions of CO2 (>85% of total annual GHG emissions) to meet energy and transportation requirements. Other notable (non-ecosystem) sources of carbon GHG emissions in 2004 were from cement- and lime-making industries (7%), livestock-based agriculture (5%), and waste treatment activities (2%). The NASA-CASA (Carnegie Ames Stanford Approach) simulation model based on satellite observations of monthly vegetation cover (including those from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, MODIS) was used to estimate net ecosystem fluxes and vegetation biomass production over the period 1990–2004. California’s annual NPP for all ecosystems in the early 2000s (estimated by CASA at 120 MMTCE per year) was roughly equivalent to its annual fossil fuel emission rates for carbon. However, since natural ecosystems can accumulate only a small fraction of this annual NPP total in long-term storage pools, the net ecosystem sink flux for atmospheric carbon across the state was estimated at a maximum rate of about 24 MMTCE per year under favorable precipitation conditions. Under less favorable precipitation conditions, such as those experienced during the early 1990s, ecosystems statewide were estimated to have lost nearly 15 MMTCE per year to the atmosphere. Considering the large amounts of carbon estimated by CASA to be stored in forests, shrublands, and rangelands across the state, the importance of protection of the natural NPP capacity of California ecosystems cannot be overemphasized.