Skip to Main Content
Forests and carbon storageAuthor(s): Michael G. Ryan
Source: (June 04, 2008). U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Climate Change Resource Center. http://www.fs.fed.us/ccrc/topics/carbon.shtml [July 16, 2008].
Publication Series: Miscellaneous Publication
PDF: Download Publication (215 B)
DescriptionForests store much carbon and their growth can be a carbon sink if disturbance or harvesting has killed or removed trees or if trees that can now regrow are planted where they did not historically occur. Forests and long-lived wood products currently offset 310 million metric tons of U.S. fossil fuel emissions of carbon--20 percent of the total (Pacala et al. 2007). This is an enormous ecosystem service; Jackson and Schlesinger (2004) estimated that offsetting another 10 percent of emissions would require the conversion of one-third of our current U.S. cropland to forest plantations. Large forested landscapes over long periods of time should have a carbon balance of near zero (Kashian et al. 2006). Our large carbon sink today results from past harvesting, which released much carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, and the regrowing forest is recovering that CO2 (Birdsey et al. 2006). Nitrogen deposition and atmospheric CO2 can make forests grow and are higher than in the past, perhaps contributing to today's forest carbon sink (Canadell et al. 2007). The persistence of this forest carbon sink is a concern, because the processes promoting the sink should taper off, while projected increases in the rates of such disturbances as fire may mobilize current carbon stocks (Canadell et al. 2007). We understand the carbon value of keeping forests as forests, of planting forests where none existed historically (afforestation), of replanting forests where they were located historically (reforestation), of using forest biomass as fuel in place of fossil fuel, and of storing carbon in long-lived products. However, several issues remain to be solved: (1) biophysical limits on storage and a complete accounting of the global warming budget of forests, which would include their albedo or reflectance (forests are dark and absorb solar energy) and the release of other greenhouse gasses such as nitrogen oxides; (2) the lifespan of storage (including disturbances of all kinds, and market forces that will influence whether harvesting for wood products is more economical than other uses); and (3) accounting of storage in all forest carbon pools and the displacement of carbon loss to other areas.
- You may send email to email@example.com to request a hard copy of this publication.
- (Please specify exactly which publication you are requesting and your mailing address.)
- We recommend that you also print this page and attach it to the printout of the article, to retain the full citation information.
- This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.
CitationRyan, Michael G. 2008. Forests and carbon storage. (June 04, 2008). U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Climate Change Resource Center. http://www.fs.fed.us/ccrc/topics/carbon.shtml [July 16, 2008].
Keywordsforests, carbon storage, carbon sink
- Forest disturbance and North American carbon flux
- Carbon sequestration in wood and paper products
- To manage or not to manage: The role of silviculture in sequestering carbon in the specter of climate change
XML: View XML