Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Mechanisms linking urban patterns to carbon dynamics: Hypotheses, observations, and future scenarios
Urbanizing regions are major determinants of global, regional, and local scale environmental changes. Urbanization affects the structure and function of Earth’s ecosystems through alteration of biophysical processes and habitat and modification of major biogeochemical cycles. Environmental changes resulting from urbanization, in turn affect human health and well-being. Scholars of urban ecology have hypothesized that patterns of urbanization control ecosystems dynamics through the complexity of interactions and feedback mechanisms linking human decisions to ecological processes. During the last three decades we have learned a great deal about the interactions between human activities and ecosystem function. However, empirical studies of the underlying processes and mechanisms linking urban patterns and ecosystem function are extremely limited. There are very few empirical data available to systematically evaluate how alternative patterns of urban development (i.e., centralized versus sprawling) interact with ecosystem processes along urban gradients across diverse biomes. Identifying effective strategies to enhance ecological resilience of urban regions requires more mechanistic and comprehensive studies of such interactions. Building on current empirical studies on urban carbon fluxes and dynamics, this seminar emphasizes formal hypotheses on how alternative development patterns produce different carbon signatures and on how interactions between urbanization patterns and carbon stocks and fluxes might change under alternative future scenarios. By focusing on the interactions between urbanization patterns and the carbon cycle, I highlight the challenges and opportunities that the study of coupled human-natural systems poses for ecology and the social sciences. I propose an integrated approach linking observations, modeling, and scenario building to foster advances in scientific research and policy making.