Carbon is continually cycling between different natural stores on the Earth: atmospheric carbon dioxide is fixed by vegetation as it grows, it is absorbed by the oceans, and is released by combustion of fossil fuels or biomass fires. We want to understand the feedbacks between the physical and biological processes involved in the carbon cycle.
Atmospheric carbon dioxide is one of the main greenhouse gases driving climate change, so our ability to diagnose and estimate future levels of the gas in the atmosphere is crucial for climate prediction.
The carbon cycle is also important because it is integral to the food chain on which we depend. The rate at which plants draw down carbon affects the productivity of the whole planet. Understanding the links between climate and natural resources is an important challenge for the future.
Earth Observation has an increasingly important role to play in support of forest management. The Essential Climate Variables that relate to forest stocks are used by the Met Office and European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) for climate modelling, but also by the UN, national mapping agencies, and commercial companies providing services for the carbon market.