Long-term urban carbon dioxide observations reveal spatial and temporal dynamics related to urban characteristics and growth

Logan E. Mitchell, John C. Lin, David R. Bowling, Diane E. Pataki, Courtenay Strong, Andrew J. Schauer, Ryan Bares, Susan E. Bush, Britton B. Stephens, Daniel Mendoza, Derek Mallia, Lacey Holland, Kevin R. Gurney, James R. Ehleringer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

119 Scopus citations


Cities are concentrated areas of CO2 emissions and have become the foci of policies for mitigation actions. However, atmospheric measurement networks suitable for evaluating urban emissions over time are scarce. Here we present a unique long-term (decadal) record of CO2 mole fractions from five sites across Utah's metropolitan Salt Lake Valley. We examine "excess" CO2 above background conditions resulting from local emissions and meteorological conditions. We ascribe CO2 trends to changes in emissions, since we did not find longterm trends in atmospheric mixing proxies. Three contrasting CO2 trends emerged across urban types: negative trends at a residentialindustrial site, positive trends at a site surrounded by rapid suburban growth, and relatively constant CO2 over time at multiple sites in the established, residential, and commercial urban core. Analysis of populationwithin the atmospheric footprints of the different sites reveals approximately equal increases in population influencing the observed CO2, implying a nonlinear relationshipwith CO2 emissions: Population growth in rural areas that experienced suburban development was associated with increasing emissions while population growth in the developed urban core was associated with stable emissions. Four state-of-the-art global-scale emission inventories also have a nonlinear relationship with population density across the city; however, in contrast to our observations, they all have nearly constant emissions over time. Our results indicate that decadal scale changes in urban CO2 emissions are detectable through monitoring networks and constitute a valuable approach to evaluate emission inventories and studies of urban carbon cycles.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2912-2917
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number12
StatePublished - Mar 20 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Carbon dioxide
  • Emissions
  • Greenhouse gas
  • Trends
  • Urban

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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