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Education: The Carbon Question

Young Investigators Carbon Initiative: Exploring the World's Carbon Cycle and Budget

The Institute on Climate and Planets at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) is announcing a research opportunity for students to become "Young Investigators" in "Exploring the World's Carbon Cycle and Budget." The GISS Carbon Research Team invites you to contribute to our research by helping us understand the global carbon budget. There are two research project opportunities for the Young Investigators Carbon Initiative:

  1. Prepare a research proposal in response to the Young Investigators Call for Proposals
  2. Contribute to the study: Carbon in A Local Ecosystem: Measuring Carbon Storage

By getting involved in either research project as a Young Investigator, you will be contributing to NASA's Earth Science Enterprise mission: "...to advance our understanding of Earth system processes and to help policy makers and citizens achieve economic growth and effective, responsible stewardship of Earth's resources. The ESE research program aims to acquire deeper scientific understanding of the components of the Earth system, their interactions, and the consequences of changes in the Earth system for life."

Project Summaries

Project 1. Young Investigators Carbon Initiative Call for Proposals

Proposals should seek to improve understanding of changes in the distribution and cycling of carbon among the land, ocean, and atmospheric reservoirs. Of special interest are the storage of carbon on land (in vegetation and soils) and the variability of carbon storage over time and from place to place.

Our goal is to encourage the next generation of scientists in carbon cycle research. We are looking for a project that takes into consideration the impacts of humans on changes in carbon storage on land (i.e. loss of biodiversity, deforestation, forest fires, human population pressure, reforestation, agriculture, etc.). How does each of these activities affect carbon? What can we do, if anything, to change the human impact on the global carbon budget?

Variability and change are sometimes difficult to monitor. With increasing human populations and activities around the world, the potential for human influence on the global carbon budget is real. This is a challenging and international research endeavor. Scientists are using many different tools and methods to study carbon. It is important to compare the methods being used and to compile the data being collected in order to improve understanding about the carbon budget.

We are looking for proposals from well-informed researchers who show the desire and the ability to conduct important and new research in the field of terrestrial carbon and to contribute to a greater understanding of the global carbon budget.

NASA seeks to answer two broad questions about carbon that your proposal should try to address:

  1. How large and variable are the dynamic reservoirs and fluxes of carbon within the Earth system, and how might carbon cycling change and be managed in future years, decades, and centuries?
  2. What are our options for managing carbon sources and sinks to achieve an appropriate balance of risk, cost, and benefit to society?

Student research proposals are requested in one of three topical areas:

  1. Explore the idea that the "missing carbon sink" can be found in North American Forests
  2. Land use and land management are linked to changes in carbon storage on land
  3. Climate change and carbon storage

Project 2. Carbon in a Local Ecosystem: Measuring Carbon Storage

As part of the Young Investigators Carbon Initiative, you may also elect to contribute to this important science mission by conducting a study modeled after the GISS Carbon Research Team.s study in New York's Black Rock Forests. The title of the GISS Team's research project is: Carbon in A Local Ecosystem: Measuring Carbon Storage.

This investigation gives students a chance to contribute direct measurement of carbon storage in a field investigation in their local environment. This is the most accurate method for determining how much carbon is stored in a terrestrial ecosystem. However, it is extremely labor intensive and scientists are many years away from measuring all of the various ecosystems that might be storing our missing carbon. If you choose to get involved in this study, the web link above provides student researchers with the background and methodology to conduct the study in your local area.

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