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

A Corrigendum to this article was published on 13 December 2009

This article has been updated


Climate change negotiations aim to reduce net greenhouse-gas emissions by encouraging direct reductions of emissions and crediting countries for their terrestrial greenhouse-gas sinks. Ecosystem carbon dioxide uptake has offset nearly 10% of Europe's fossil fuel emissions, but not all of this may be creditable under the rules of the Kyoto Protocol. Although this treaty recognizes the importance of methane and nitrous oxide emissions, scientific research has largely focused on carbon dioxide. Here we review recent estimates of European carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide fluxes between 2000 and 2005, using both top-down estimates based on atmospheric observations and bottom-up estimates derived from ground-based measurements. Both methods yield similar fluxes of greenhouse gases, suggesting that methane emissions from feedstock and nitrous oxide emissions from arable agriculture are fully compensated for by the carbon dioxide sink provided by forests and grasslands. As a result, the balance for all greenhouse gases across Europe's terrestrial biosphere is near neutral, despite carbon sequestration in forests and grasslands. The trend towards more intensive agriculture and logging is likely to make Europe's land surface a significant source of greenhouse gases. The development of land management policies which aim to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions should be a priority.

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Figure 1: Data streams entering into the European biological GHG balance.
Figure 2: The flow of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases through ecosystems.
Figure 3: Geographic distribution of sources and sinks of GHGs across Europe as determined from inversion models.
Figure 4: Fossil fuel emissions of Europe.

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  • 13 December 2009

    In the version of this Progress Article originally published, the colour scale for Fig. 3e and f was incorrect and Fig. 3h and i were incorrect. These errors have been corrected in the HTML and PDF versions.


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The CarboEurope project team is a diverse group of about 300 scientists who are collectively responsible for obtaining the measurements on which this integrated analysis is based. We are truly grateful to every one of them. We acknowledge funding from the European Union 6th Framework Programme through CarboEurope-IP (Project No. GOCE-CT-2003ñ505572). The EU funding was supplemented by national funding from the different nations participating in the project. S.L. was supported by the Centre of Excellence ECO (UA-Methusalem). P.S. is a Royal Society-Wolfson Research Merit Award Holder. We thank the Max Planck Institute of Biogeochemistry for their support in project coordination. Specifically, we are grateful to A. Boener for artwork, and Y. Hofman and A. Thuille for administrative support throughout the project.

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Authors and Affiliations




E.D.S. coordinated the project, P.C. was responsible for assembling grassland and cropland syntheses, coordinating the atmospheric measurements and inverse model synthesis, S.L. was responsible for assembling the forest synthesis and the uncertainty analysis, A.F. contributed GHG data, I.A.J. developed the ecosystem flow chart, J.F.S., P.S. and J.G. were responsible for the grassland, cropland and forest data respectively, I.L. and B.T. contributed the fossil fuel emission data, G.E. contributed the geological data, M.H., P.B., P.P., W.P. and C.R. contributed inversion modelling results, A.J.D. contributed with regionalization of continental fluxes, R.V. was responsible for the eddy-flux network, J.G.N. contributed the forest inventory data, M.W. and N.V. contributed spatial data of N2O and CH4 in agriculture, Z.P. and J.N. prepared the regional maps, E.D.S., I.A.J., S.L. and J.H.G. wrote the text.

E. D. Schulze1, S. Luyssaert2, 3, P. Ciais2, A. Freibauer4, I. A. Janssens3, J. F. Soussana5, P. Smith6, J. Grace7, I. Levin8, B. Thiruchittampalam9, M. Heimann1, A. J. Dolman10, R. Valentini11, P. Bousquet2, P. Peylin2, W. Peters12, C. Rödenbeck1, G. Etiope13, N. Vuichard2, M. Wattenbach6, G. J. Nabuurs15, Z. Poussi2, J. Nieschulze1, J. H. Gash10, 14, and the CarboEurope Team16

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Correspondence to E. D. Schulze.

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Schulze, E., Luyssaert, S., Ciais, P. et al. Importance of methane and nitrous oxide for Europe's terrestrial greenhouse-gas balance. Nature Geosci 2, 842–850 (2009).

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