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Urban Patterns and Carbon Dynamics: Emerging Hypotheses and Research Strategies

I propose that a shift in the patterns of urbanization might be central to face key global environmental challenges. Urbanizing regions are major determinants of continental and global scale changes in carbon (C) cycles due to land transformation, modification of biogeochemical processes, and concentration of fossil fuel combustion activities. However, empirical studies of the underlying mechanisms linking urbanization patterns to carbon stocks and fluxes are extremely limited. I present an integrated framework to identify key mechanisms and interactions between urban patterns and the carbon cycle along gradients of urbanization. Building on a synthesis of the current empirical studies in major US metropolitan areas, I develop formal hypotheses on how alternative development patterns may produce different carbon signatures (spatial and temporal changes in stocks and fluxes). Using the Seattle metropolitan area (WA) as a case study, I present some observations and discuss a research agenda to test such hypotheses. I discuss a strategy to measure urban C and develop robust management strategies by linking predictive modeling and scenario planning.