Carbon Cycle and Ecosystems Focus Area

CCE detects, explains, and predicts changes in Earth’s ecosystems, biogeochemical cycles, biodiversity, and land cover.

The Carbon Cycle and Ecosystems focus area (CCE) supports interdisciplinary research initiatives into Earth’s ecosystems and biogeochemical cycles, including how carbon, nitrogen and other nutrients are stored and cycled throughout the environment. CCE uses satellite remote sensing instruments, field campaigns, laboratory studies, and modeling to improve our understanding of how terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems around the world, such as forests, jungles, deserts, oceans, coasts, and polar environments, are changing over time. CCE also studies how changes in these ecosystems may affect how the planet stores nutrients like carbon and nitrogen in the future. Resolving these uncertainties will help us understand fluctuations in Earth’s climate and have major implications for biodiversity and sustainable resource management.

CCE Research Questions

CCE research addresses the following overarching questions:

Colorized map indicating carbon levels
How are ecosystems changing around the globe, and what mechanisms, processes, and feedbacks contribute to this change?
Photo of sea shore
How do air-sea, land-sea, and land-air interactions contribute to global climate change?
Satellite photo of hurricane
How do ecosystems, land cover, and biogeochemical cycles respond to and affect global environmental change?
Satellite image of land cover
What changes are occurring in global land cover and land use, what are their causes, and how do they affect ecosystems and society?
Satellite image of Africa
What is the current state of biodiversity across the globe and how does it change through time?
Photo of diatom
How are biological and biogeochemical regimes changing within marine and freshwater environments, what are their causes, and how will they affect society over time?

CCE Associated Missions

The table below lists the missions, campaigns, and instruments relevant to the Carbon Cycle and Ecosystems focus area in all phases.

Operating Satellites

Operating Suborbital/Airborne

Operating Ground-based

In Development Satellites

Under Study Satellites

Past Satellites

Past Suborbital/Airborne

Learn more about CCE

Research Programs

Biological Diversity Research Program

The Biological Diversity Research Program uses NASA observations and models to improve our understanding of biodiversity, including how and why it is changing, and its effects on and interactions with the Earth system. The Biological Diversity program explores patterns of biodiversity on land and in water using observations from satellites, airborne and seaborne platforms, and in-situ surveys. It works very closely with the Applied Sciences Ecological Conservation Program to help predict and act upon the impacts of environmental change on ecosystems.

Land-Cover and Land-Use Change Program

The Land-Cover and Land-Use Change Program (LCLUC) uses remote sensing data from satellites and airborne campaigns to improve our understanding of how humans affect and interact with the terrestrial environment. LCLUC combines this data with knowledge from physical, social, and economic sciences to determine how this relationship influences global ecological sustainability, vulnerability, and resilience to facilitate global inventories of land-cover and land-use change and to predict their impacts on Earth’s systems and society. Key elements of the program include: monitoring and modeling how land cover and land use change over time and understanding how these changes affect Earth’s systems, biodiversity, environmental goods and services, and the management of natural resources.

Ocean Biology and Biogeochemistry Program

The Ocean Biology and Biogeochemistry Program (OBB) conducts research to better understand, describe, and predict the biological and biogeochemical regimes in marine and freshwater environments. OBB combines remote sensing data from satellites and suborbital assets with data from in-situ platforms like ships and buoys to determine the optical properties of different water bodies – or how sediments, nutrients, and organisms absorb, reflect, or refract light in the water column. This research helps determine how aquatic organisms, their habitats, and the biogeochemistry of marine and freshwater environments are changing over time. Understanding these changes is important for predicting, preparing for and mitigating against potential future effects on society and the planet.

Terrestrial Ecology Program

The Terrestrial Ecology Program (TE) researches fluctuations in global and regional carbon and nutrient cycles, including changes in the structure and overall function of land-based ecosystems. The program uses satellites, field campaigns, laboratory studies, and ecosystem and biogeochemical modeling to improve our understanding of the compositional makeup, productivity, and role of terrestrial ecosystems; their interactions with other Earth systems; and how they contribute to the cycling and storing of carbon and other nutrients. The program also focuses on the vulnerability and resilience of ecosystems to disturbances like fires and insect epidemics, as well as to environmental changes like drought and floods.

Research Initiatives

Carbon Monitoring System

The Carbon Monitoring System (CMS) is a congressionally mandated effort to better identify global carbon reservoirs and quantify their changes. To this end, CMS invests in research to characterize, quantify, and predict the evolution of regional and global carbon sources and sinks using airborne and satellite remote sensing to evaluate exchanges of carbon between the land and atmosphere and to monitor carbon stocks such as forests. A key function of CMS is the use of state-of-the-art science to develop prototype monitoring systems informed by interactions with potential and relevant stakeholders.

North American Carbon Program

The North American Carbon Program (NACP) is a multi-agency, multidisciplinary scientific research program focused on carbon sources and sinks in North America and its adjacent oceans. NACP’s success relies on the coordination among observational, experimental, and modeling efforts regarding terrestrial, oceanic, atmospheric, and human components of the carbon cycle. NACP relies upon a rich and diverse array of existing observational networks, monitoring sites, and experimental field studies. NACP is supported by several federal agencies through intra- and extramural funding mechanisms and is a primary activity of the U.S. Carbon Cycle Science Program.

Ocean Carbon & Biogeochemistry

The Ocean Carbon and Biogeochemistry Program (OCB) was established in 2006 as one of the major activities of the U.S. Carbon Cycle Science Program, an interagency body that coordinates and facilitates activities relevant to carbon cycle science, climate, and global change issues. The scientific mission of OCB is to study the evolving role of the ocean in the global carbon cycle, in the face of environmental variability and change through studies of marine biogeochemical cycles and associated ecosystems.

South/Southeast Asia Research Initiative (SARI)

SARI is an LCLUC Program-funded research initiative in South and Southeast Asia aimed at strengthening land-change science with a focus on pertinent regional issues and with the involvement of regional scientists. SARI's goal is to develop an innovative regional research program, which builds on state-of-the-art remote sensing, natural sciences, engineering, and socioeconomic sciences in the SARI region. Changes in land cover and land use are occurring rapidly in SARI countries accompanied by significant transitions from forest to agriculture and agricultural areas to residential and urban use, with concomitant disruption of water, forest resources, and biodiversity affecting regional climate, biogeochemical cycles, and atmospheric processes. SARI's research is based on 20+ ongoing projects focused on LCLUC-environment interactions and their impacts on society to address improving resource management, human health, and livelihoods. SARI facilitates strengthening science collaborations between the U.S. and regional researchers, enables data collection and sharing mechanisms. It also assists in building regional capacity to utilize the NASA Earth observation data. Information about SARI's activities can be found at

CCE for Scientists

Scientific Meetings and Conferences

Carbon Cycle & Ecosystems Joint Science Workshop - May 8-12, 2023 in College Park, MD

Research and Funding Opportunities

Solicited program elements relevant to CCE are publicized through the Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Sciences (ROSES) NASA Research Announcements (NRAs) on the NASA Solicitation and Proposal Integrated Review and Evaluation System (NSPIRES) website. Past, open, and future solicitations can be searched and viewed on NSPIRES.

Current solicitations of interest to the CCE community:

NASA Research Resources, Associated Programs, and Partnerships

Access NASA data related to Carbon Cycle and Ecosystems and learn more about center-level CCE programs and partnerships at the links below:

Guiding and Planning Documents

NASA Center Programs

Interagency and International Partnerships

Contact CCE

CCE Focus Area Lead

Laura Lorenzoni
Carbon Cycle and Ecosystems Focus Area Lead
Contact | Bio

Biological Diversity Research Program

Woody Turner
Biological Diversity Research Program Manager
Contact | Bio

Keith Gaddis
Biological Diversity Program Manager
Contact | Bio

Land-Cover and Land-Use Change Program

Garik Gutman
Land-Cover and Land-Use Change Program Manager
Contact | Bio

Krishna Vadrevu, NASA MSFC
Land-Cover and Land-Use Change Program Coordinator
Contact | Bio

Chris Justice, U. Maryland
Land-Cover and Land-Use Change Program Scientist

Ocean Biology and Biogeochemistry Program

Laura Lorenzoni
Ocean Biology and Biogeochemistry Program
Contact | Bio

Terrestrial Ecology Program

Ryan Pavlick
Terrestrial Ecology Program Manager

Kathy Hibbard
Terrestrial Ecology Program
Contact | Bio