Multi-factor controls on terrestrial carbon dynamics in urbanized areas
As urban land expands rapidly across the globe, much concern has been raised that urbanization may alter the terrestrial carbon cycle. Urbanization involves complex changes in land structure and multiple environmental factors. Little is known about the relative contribution of these individual factors and their interactions to the terrestrial carbon dynamics, however, which is essential for assessing the effectiveness of carbon sequestration policies focusing on urban development. This study developed a comprehensive analysis framework for quantifying relative contribution of individual factors (and their interactions) to terrestrial carbon dynamics in urbanized areas. We identified 15 factors belonging to five categories, and we applied a newly developed factorial analysis scheme to the southern United States (SUS), a rapidly urbanizing region. In all, 24 numeric experiments were designed to systematically isolate and quantify the relative contribution of individual factors. We found that the impact of land conversion was far larger than other factors. Urban managements and the overall interactive effects among major factors, however, created a carbon sink that compensated for 42% of the carbon loss in land conversion. Our findings provide valuable information for regional carbon management in the SUS: (1) it is preferable to preserve pre-urban carbon pools than to rely on the carbon sinks in urban ecosystems to compensate for the carbon loss in land conversion. (2) In forested areas, it is recommendable to improve landscape design (e.g., by arranging green spaces close to the city center) to maximize the urbanization-induced environmental change effect on carbon sequestration. Urbanization-induced environmental change will be less effective in shrubland regions. (3) Urban carbon sequestration can be significantly improved through changes in management practices, such as increased irrigation and fertilizer and targeted use of vehicles and machinery with least-associated carbon emissions.