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An article by S. Fan and others in Science 282 (1998), 442-446 on the uptake of CO2 by the terrestrial biosphere is discussed. The article's suggestion that North America provides a large CO2 sink has been used to support arguemnts that the USA need not participate in greenhouse gas (GHG) burden sharing. This short paper suggests methodological problems with the Fan et al's research, particularly with regard to the "inverse" model employed. This might be described as similar to forensic detective work, or even the game of 'Cluedo', where deductions are made without all the information being available. This leads inevitably to indeterminacy in the findings (acknowledged in the last paragraph of the article) which should preclude the use of their data in policy-making for GHG burden-sharing. Fan el al do corroborate the suggestion made previously of a significant CO2 sink in North America. However, whilst the research data can be used validly to make qualitative judgments, the inverse techniques of the researchers produces strong, intrinsic and insurmountable limitations to the data being used as a reliable, independent, quantitative estimate.

Additional information

Authors: MARTIN P, ISIS, JRC Ispra (IT)
Bibliographic Reference: Article: Nature 1998
Record Number: 199910690 / Last updated on: 1999-04-30
Original language: en
Available languages: en