A scalable framework for quantifying field-level agricultural carbon outcomes

Kaiyu Guan, Zhenong Jin, Bin Peng, Jinyun Tang, Evan H. DeLucia, Paul C. West, Chongya Jiang, Sheng Wang, Taegon Kim, Wang Zhou, Tim Griffis, Licheng Liu, Wendy H. Yang, Ziqi Qin, Qi Yang, Andrew Margenot, Emily R. Stuchiner, Vipin Kumar, Carl Bernacchi, Jonathan CoppessKimberly A. Novick, James Gerber, Molly Jahn, Madhu Khanna, Do Kyoung Lee, Zhangliang Chen, Shang Jen Yang

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Agriculture contributes nearly a quarter of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which is motivating interest in adopting certain farming practices that have the potential to reduce GHG emissions or sequester carbon in soil. The related GHG emission (including N2O and CH4) and changes in soil carbon stock are defined here as “agricultural carbon outcomes”. Accurate quantification of agricultural carbon outcomes is the basis for achieving emission reductions for agriculture, but existing approaches for measuring carbon outcomes (including direct measurements, emission factors, and process-based modeling) fall short of achieving the required accuracy and scalability necessary to support credible, verifiable, and cost-effective measurement and improvement of these carbon outcomes. Here we propose a foundational and scalable framework to quantify field-level carbon outcomes for farmland, which is based on the holistic carbon balance of the agroecosystem: Agroecosystem Carbon Outcomes = Environment (E) × Management (M) × Crop (C). Following a comprehensive review of the scientific challenges associated with existing approaches, as well as their tradeoffs between cost and accuracy, we propose that the most viable path for the quantification of field-level carbon outcomes in agricultural land is through an effective integration of various approaches (e.g. diverse observations, sensor/in-situ data, and modeling), defined as the “System-of-Systems” solution. Such a “System-of-Systems” solution should simultaneously comprise the following components: (1) scalable collection of ground truth data and cross-scale sensing of environment variables (E), management practices (M), and crop conditions (C) at the local field level; (2) advanced modeling with necessary processes to support the quantification of carbon outcomes; (3) systematic Model-Data Fusion (MDF), i.e. robust and efficient methods to integrate sensing data and models at each local farmland level; (4) high computation efficiency and artificial intelligence (AI) to scale to millions of individual fields with low cost; and (5) robust and multi-tier validation systems and infrastructures to ensure solution fidelity and true scalability, i.e. the ability of a solution to perform robustly with accepted accuracy on all targeted fields. In this regard, we provide here the detailed scientific rationale, current progress, and future research and development (R&D) priorities to achieve different components of the “System-of-Systems” solution, thus accomplishing the Environment×Management×Crop framework to quantify field-level agricultural carbon outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104462
JournalEarth-Science Reviews
StatePublished - Aug 2023


  • Agroecosystem
  • Carbon outcomes
  • GHG quantification
  • Methane
  • Nitrous oxide
  • Soil organic carbon
  • System-of-Systems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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