The Global Carbon Cycle: A Test of Our Knowledge of Earth as a System
Motivated by the rapid increase in atmospheric CO2due to human activities since the Industrial Revolution, several international scientific research programs have analyzed the role of individual components of the Earth system in the global carbon cycle. Our knowledge of the carbon cycle within the oceans, terrestrial ecosystems, and the atmosphere is sufficiently extensive to permit us to conclude that although natural processes can potentially slow the rate of increase in atmospheric CO2, there is no natural “savior” waiting to assimilate all the anthropogenically produced CO2 in the coming century. Our knowledge is insufficient to describe the interactions between the components of the Earth system and the relationship between the carbon cycle and other biogeochemical and climatological processes. Overcoming this limitation requires a systems approach.