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Scales and Processes of the Global Carbon Cycle

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The global carbon cycle is determined by the interactions of climate, the environment, and Earth’s living systems at many levels, from molecular to global. Relating processes, phenomena, and properties across spatial and temporal scales is critical for deriving a predictive mechanistic understanding of the global carbon cycle to support more precise projections of climate change and its impacts. Each domain of climate, ecosystem, and molecular biology research has a limited reach in scales, constrained by the complexity of these systems and limitations in empirical and modeling capabilities. While comprehensive linkage of genomes to global phenomena is intractable, many insightful connections at intermediate scales are viable with integrated application of new systems biology approaches and powerful analytical and modeling techniques at the physiological and ecosystem levels. Biological responses (blue) are to the right of the systems ovals, and climate and environmental factors (green) are to the left of the systems ovals.

Credit or Source: Office of Biological and Environmental Research of the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science. Globe portion of figure courtesy of Gary Strand, National Center for Atmospheric Research, with funding from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy.


U.S. DOE. 2009. U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science Systems Biology Knowledgebase for a New Era in Biology: A Genomics:GTL Report from the May 2008 Workshop, DOE/SC-113, U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science. (p. 11) (website)

U.S. DOE. 2008. Carbon Cycling and Biosequestration: Report from the March 2008 Workshop, DOE/SC-108, U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science. (p. 16) (website)

Prepared by the Biological and Environmental Research Information System, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and