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Ecosystem services and biogeochemical cycles on a global scale: valuation of water, carbon and nitrogen processes

Watanabe, Marcos D.B., Ortega, Enrique
Environmental science & policy 2011 v.14 no.6 pp. 594-604
aquifers, biogeochemical cycles, carbon, carbon dioxide, climate, ecosystem services, ecosystems, emergy, environmental science, food production, greenhouse gas emissions, groundwater flow, groundwater recharge, issues and policy, leaching, methane, nitrogen, nitrogen fixation, nitrous oxide, prices, runoff, soil formation, willingness to pay
Ecosystem services (ES) are provided by healthy ecosystems and are fundamental to support human life. However, natural systems have been degraded all over the world and the process of degradation is partially attributed to the lack of knowledge regarding the economic benefits associated with ES, which usually are not captured in the market. To valuate ES without using conventional approaches, such as the human's willingness-to-pay for ecosystem goods and services, this paper uses a different method based on Energy Systems Theory to estimate prices for biogeochemical flows that affect ecosystem services by considering their emergy content converted to equivalent monetary terms. Ecosystem services related to water, carbon and nitrogen biogeochemical flows were assessed since they are connected to a range of final ecosystem services including climate regulation, hydrological regulation, food production, soil formation and others. Results in this paper indicate that aquifer recharge, groundwater flow, carbon dioxide sequestration, methane emission, biological nitrogen fixation, nitrous oxide emission and nitrogen leaching/runoff are the most critical biogeochemical flows in terrestrial systems. Moreover, monetary values related to biogeochemical flows on a global scale could provide important information for policymakers concerned with payment mechanisms for ecosystem services and costs of greenhouse gas emissions.