Skip to Main Content
The role of reforestation in carbon sequestrationAuthor(s): L.E. Nave; B.F. Walters; K.L. Hofmeister; C.H. Perry; U. Mishra; G.M. Domke; C.W. Swanston
Source: New Forests
Publication Series: Scientific Journal (JRNL)
Station: Northern Research Station
View PDF (3.0 MB)
DescriptionIn the United States (U.S.), the maintenance of forest cover is a legal mandate for federally managed forest lands. More broadly, reforestation following harvesting, recent or historic disturbances can enhance numerous carbon (C)-based ecosystem services and functions. These include production of woody biomass for forest products, and mitigation of atmospheric CO2 pollution and climate change by sequestering C into ecosystem pools where it can be stored for long timescales. Nonetheless, a range of assessments and analyses indicate that reforestation in the U.S. lags behind its potential, with the continuation of ecosystem services and functions at risk if reforestation is not increased. In this context, there is need for multiple independent analyses that quantify the role of reforestation in C sequestration, from ecosystems up to regional and national levels. Here, we describe the methods and report the findings of a large-scale data synthesis aimed at four objectives: (1) estimate C storage in major ecosystem pools in forest and other land cover types; (2) quantify sources of variation in ecosystem C pools; (3) compare the impacts of reforestation and afforestation on C pools; (4) assess whether these results hold or diverge across ecoregions. The results of our synthesis support four overarching inferences regarding reforestation and other land use impacts on C sequestration. First, in the bigger picture, soils are the dominant C pool in all ecosystems and land cover types in the U.S., and soil C pool sizes vary less by land cover than by other factors, such as spatial variation or soil wetness. Second, where historically cultivated lands are being reforested, topsoils are sequestering significant amounts of C, with the majority of reforested lands yet to reach their capacity relative to the potential indicated by natural forest soils. Third, the establishment of woody vegetation delivers immediate to multi-decadal C sequestration benefits in aboveground woody biomass and coarse woody debris pools, with two- to three-fold C sequestration benefits in biomass during the first several decades following planting. Fourth, opportunities to enhance C sequestration through reforestation vary among the ecoregions, according to current levels of planting, typical forest growth rates, and past land uses (especially cultivation). Altogether, our results suggest that an immediate, but phased and spatially targeted approach to reforestation can enhance C sequestration in forest biomass and soils in the U.S. for decades to centuries to come.
- Check the Northern Research Station web site to request a printed copy of this publication.
- Our on-line publications are scanned and captured using Adobe Acrobat.
- During the capture process some typographical errors may occur.
- Please contact Sharon Hobrla, firstname.lastname@example.org if you notice any errors which make this publication unusable.
- 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.
CitationNave, L.E.; Walters, B.F.; Hofmeister, K.L.; Perry, C.H.; Mishra, U.; Domke, G.M.; Swanston, C.W. 2019. The role of reforestation in carbon sequestration. New Forests. 50(1): 115-137. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11056-018-9655-3.
KeywordsForest ecosystem, Land cover, Land use, Soil, Biomass, ECOMAP
- Reforestation can sequester two petagrams of carbon in US topsoils in a century
- Carbon pool and biomass dynamics associated with deforestation, land use, and agricultural abandonment in the neotropics
- Carbon sequestration in the U.S. forest sector from 1990 to 2010
XML: View XML