Scales of Decision-Making and the Carbon Cycle

State seal of Colorado and Pennsylvania

This project will examine the relationship of scales in carbon cycle science to scales needed for decision-making.  The issue of scale of information needed for decision-makers is a complex one that has not yet been addressed specifically for carbon cycle science. 

The Carbon Cycle Science Plan and North American Carbon Plan both aim to provide carbon cycle information that will support decision making at a variety of scales, but do not define how the scientifically-defined strategy to link across scales will intersect with scales of decision-making.  We assert that the terrestrial portion of the carbon cycle is most likely to be managed effectively through land use policies by local and state institutions operating within a framework of federal agencies.  We propose to study the institutions whose practices and policies influence the biospheric portion of the carbon cycle in two U.S. states—Colorado and Pennsylvania—to create a matrix of decision-making at Federal, regional and local levels that affects carbon storage and release land that will be mapped onto the scales at which usable scientific knowledge of policy-relevant carbon exchange processes is organized.  These two regions are comprised of diverse types of land cover and use, as well as contrasting land use histories, with Pennsylvania steadily losing agricultural land to reforestation and urbanization and Colorado maintaining its strong mix of agricultural, range, and forestland. 

We will compare these results to scales of land use patterns and resulting carbon uptake and release patterns to understand how scales of decision-making intersect with biogeophysical scales.  This study will be the first step in understanding how decisions made in institutions at different scales currently act to affect carbon sequestration. 


  • Lisa Dilling, University of Colorado, Principal Investigator
  • William Easterling, Penn State University, Collaborator