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The human carbon budget: an estimate of the spatial distribution of metabolic carbon consumption and release in the United States

  • Author(s): West, Tristram O.
  • Marland, Gregg
  • Singh, Nagendra
  • Bhaduri, Budhendra L.
  • Roddy, Adam B.
  • et al.
Abstract

Carbon dioxide is taken up by agricultural crops and released soon after during the consumption of agricultural commodities. The global net impact of this process on carbon flux to the atmosphere is negligible, but impact on the spatial distribution of carbon dioxide uptake and release across regions and continents is significant. To estimate the consumption and release of carbon by humans over the landscape, we developed a carbon budget for humans in the United States. The budget was derived from food commodity intake data for the US and from algorithms representing the metabolic processing of carbon by humans. Data on consumption, respiration, and waste of carbon by humans were distributed over the US using geospatial population data with a resolution of ~450 × 450 m. The average adult in the US contains about 21 kg C and consumes about 67 kg C year−1 which is balanced by the annual release of about 59 kg C as expired CO2, 7 kg C as feces and urine, and less than 1 kg C as flatus, sweat, and aromatic compounds. In 2000, an estimated 17.2 Tg C were consumed by the US population and 15.2 Tg C were expired to the atmosphere as CO2. Historically, carbon stock in the US human population has increased between 1790 and 2006 from 0.06 Tg to 5.37 Tg. Displacement and release of total harvested carbon per capita in the US is nearly 12% of per capita fossil fuel emissions. Humans are using, storing, and transporting carbon about the Earth’s surface. Inclusion of these carbon dynamics in regional carbon budgets can improve our understanding of carbon sources and sinks.

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