Young forests use carbon most effectively

(Climate News Network, 28 Feb 2019) As greenhouse gas consumers, young forests use carbon more industriously in the temperate and cool zones than older forests.

For forests, it really does help to be young. British scientists who have identified the vital factor that shows what makes a forest a good carbon sink say young forests use carbon best and absorb it most efficiently.

A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences seems on the face of it to settle an old puzzle with an unsurprising answer. New and young forests make the most efficient and effective carbon sinks.

Humans burn fossil fuels and emit vast quantities of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The felling, burning and clearing of natural forest releases ever more carbon.

But green plants absorb CO2 to make tissue and turn the gas into root and branch, leaf and bark, trunk and fruit. So scientists, led by Tom Pugh of the University of Birmingham in England, addressed the question: what kind of forest is best as a carbon sink?

“Ultimately reforestation programmes will only be effective if we simultaneously work to reduce our emissions”

They gathered data about forest age, devised computer models and looked at the estimates of carbon intake between 2001 and 2010 in old, long-established areas of forest. Then they looked at the data from younger stands of timber that had colonised areas once logged, or damaged by forest fire, or farmed and then abandoned.

They identified an age effect in stands of timber less than 140 years old: big enough to account for 25% of forest carbon uptake from the atmosphere.

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Climate News Network, 28 Feb 2019: Young forests use carbon most effectively