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ENVSCI 260 Global Environmental Change

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Questions:

Answer each of the following questions.  Each question is worth 2 pts.

Global Forests and carbon storage 

1) Global forests are considered a sink for atmospheric carbon because large trees can sequester carbon as they grow and hold the carbon in woody biomass (i.e. the mass of the tree itself) for centuries.  

  1. What are the two potential pathways for the carbon stored in trees after they die?  Which of these pathways would lead to long-term carbon burial?  Describe or illustrate this process.

  2. A recent study in the journal Science(http://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2017/09/27/science.aam5962) challenges this long-held view (at least for tropical forests) stating the deforestation is causing tropical forested land to act as a source of carbon to the atmosphere instead of a sink.  Describe how the process of deforestation shifts the potential pathways for carbon described in part A.

2) A recent study in Global Change Biology (Kautz et al., Glob. Change Biol. 2018, 24:2079-92) investigated the effects of insects, disease, and forest fires on the U.S. forest carbon reservoir. They found that insects and disease cause a net loss (or flux out of the forest reservoir) of 13.2 Mt C/yr and forest fires cause a net loss of 7.8 Mt C/yr. The U.S. carbon reservoir is approximately 8.7 Gt C.

  1. Draw a diagram of the reservoir of carbon in U.S. forests with the outflow caused by insects, disease, and wildfires. 
  2. Climate change is expected to increase both insect infestations and wildfires.  What would the carbon flux out of the forest reservoir be in 2040 if these processes doubled over the next 20 years?
  3. If this doubling occurs, would the system be at steady state?  Why or why not?  What would you expect to happen to the forest reservoir overtime?

3) The warming of artic regions in Alaska, Greenland, and Siberia have the potential to expand boreal forests which currently have a carbon reservoir of 272 Gt C.  As the boreal forest expands, inflow into the forest increases as outflow remains the same.  

  1. What is the overall effect on the size of the boreal forest carbon reservoir as the boreal forest expands?
  2. If the boreal forest doubled in size over the next 50 years, what would the net flux of carbon from the atmosphere need to be to increase the boreal forest carbon reservoir by 272 G ton C (in Gt C/yr)?  (Assume an average flux over the 50 years)

Extra credit:  The warming of the artic regions affects planetary energy balance in a number of ways.  The expansion of the forests increases carbon sequestration as described above, but it also impacts albedo.  Explain how albedo might be affected by the expansion of the boreal forests in the Artic.  Taking into account the additional carbon sequestered and the changes in albedo, what do you think the overall impact of the expansion of the boreal forests would be on Earth’s climate?  Justify your answer. 

Planetary Energy Balance of our Neighbor Planets  

4) Venus is 67 million miles from the sun compared with Mercury which is 36 million miles from the sun.  How much more solar flux does Mercury receive relative to Venus?

5)  The average surface temperature of Mercury is 440 K (167o C), while the average surface temperature of Venus is 735 K (462o C).

  1. How well does the solar flux received by each of these planets explain the actual surface temperature of these planets?  Explain your answer.
  2. What are the other factors that affect planetary energy balance?  Which of these factors are  responsible for the higher temperature on Venus relative to Mercury?

6.)  Observations of the Martian surface strongly suggest that Mars once had a much warmer climate with liquid water.  Because there is no reason to believe that solar radiation and surface albedo has changed drastically since the formation of the planet, warming must be attributed to an early greenhouse effect.  To explain the hypothesis of an early warm Mars, scientists have attempted to reconstruct the composition of the early Martian atmosphere.  Carbon dioxide and water vapor are two greenhouse gases that are believed to have played a large role in the early greenhouse effect on Mars.  

  1. Describe the absorption spectrum for these two gases and how this relates to the greenhouse effect.
  2. What are the molecular properties of these molecules that allow them to absorb radiation at these wavelengths?

Nitrogen Cycle. In the Midwest, agricultural run-off is often high in nitrogen and being able to reduce nitrogen loading through natural processes such as denitrification can help to reduce eutrophication and hypoxic conditions.   A 2006 study by David et al. (Ecol Appl.  16:2177-90) investigated the role that Lake Shelbyville, Illinois, played in reducing nitrogen loading to rivers within the Mississippi River watershed.  They found that the influx of nitrogen from agricultural run-off was 9000 Mg N/ yr, while the average denitrification rate was 5200 Mg N/ yr.   

7) What is the difference between the nitrogen inputs and denitrification rate in Lake Shelbyville?  This is the amount of Nitrogen that leaves Lake Shelbyville and is exported to nearby rivers.  Draw a diagram with Lake Shelbyville as the nitrogen reservoir and all the inputs and outputs from the reservoir.

8)  The residence time for nitrogen in Lake Shelbyville is 0.40 years.  What is the total size of the nitrogen reservoir in Lake Shelbyville (assuming that it is at steady-state)?

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