Review: Urban ecosystems and the North American carbon cycle


Approximately 75–80% of the population of North America currently lives in urban areas
as defined by national census bureaus, and urbanization is continuing to increase. Future
trajectories of fossil fuel emissions are associated with a high degree of uncertainty;
however, if the activities of urban residents and the rate of urban land conversion can be
captured in urban systems models, plausible emissions scenarios from major cities may
be generated. Integrated land use and transportation models that simulate energy use
and traffic-related emissions are already in place in many North American cities. To these
can be added a growing dataset of carbon gains and losses in vegetation and soils
following urbanization, and a number of methods of validating urban carbon balance
modeling, including top down atmospheric monitoring and urban ‘metabolic’ studies of
whole ecosystem mass and energy flow. Here, we review the state of our understanding
of urban areas as whole ecosystems with regard to carbon balance, including both drivers
of fossil fuel emissions and carbon cycling in urban plants and soils. Interdisciplinary,
whole-ecosystem studies of the socioeconomic and biophysical factors that influence
urban carbon cycles in a range of cities may greatly contribute to improving scenarios of
future carbon balance at both continental and global scales.
Keywords: CO2 emissions , global carbon cycle, urban ecology


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