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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2022

Reconstructing past fossil-fuel CO2 concentrations using tree rings and radiocarbon in the urban area of Medellin, Colombia

Vasquez, Marileny; Lara, Wilson; del Valle, Jorge, I; Sierra, Carlos A.


To meet international and national commitments to decrease emissions of fossil fuels, cities around the world must obtain information on their historical levels of emissions, identifying hotspots that require special attention. Direct atmospheric measurements of pollution sources are almost impossible to obtain retrospectively. However, tree rings serve as an archive of environmental information for reconstructing the temporal and spatial distribution of fossil-fuel emissions in urban areas. Here, we present a novel methodology to reconstruct the spatial and temporal contribution of fossil-fuel CO2 concentration ([CO2F]) in the urban area of Medellin, Colombia. We used a combination of dendrochronological analyses, radiocarbon measurements, and statistical modeling. We obtained annual maps of [CO2F] from 1977 to 2018 that describe changes in its spatial distribution over time. Our method was successful at identifying hotspots of emissions around industrial areas, and areas with high traffic density. It also identified temporal trends that may be related to socioeconomic and technological factors. We observed an important increase in [CO2F] during the last decade, which suggests that efforts of city officials to reduce traffic and emissions did not have a significant impact on the contribution of fossil fuels to local air. The method presented here could be of significant value for city planners and environmental officials from other urban areas around the world. It allows identifying hotspots of fossil fuels emissions, evaluating the impact of previous environmental policies, and planning new interventions to reduce emissions.


dendrochronology; radiocarbon; fossil fuel emissions; fossil CO2

Published in

Environmental Research Letters
2022, volume: 17, number: 5, article number: 055008
Publisher: IOP Publishing Ltd

Authors' information

Vasquez, Marileny
Universidad Nacional de Colombia
Lara, Wilson
Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research
Lara, Wilson
Universidad Nacional de Colombia
del Valle, Jorge
Universidad Nacional de Colombia
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Ecology
Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry

Sustainable Development Goals

SDG11 Sustainable cities and communities

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