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Complex forest dynamics indicate potential for slowing carbon accumulation in the southeastern United States

Date: 07/02/15

Redacted from Climate Wire

A new study used data collected from plots from Louisiana to Virginia to analyze how various disturbances and natural processes influence how much carbon the region contains, and then ran models to assess how this might change given a few different scenarios.

Between 2007 and 2012, the report found that the Southeast forests' total intake of CO2 increased by a whopping 81.95 million metric tons per year.

If the amount of agricultural land currently transitioning into forestland decreased by 10 percent and development increased by 10 percent, about 7.1 million metric tons less of carbon would be stored in Southern forests per year -- a reduction of about 9.5 percent, the analysis found.  

From the study:

The present study uses recently remeasured forest inventory plots for the entire southeastern U.S. to identify the relative influences of forest growth, land use changes that expand or reduce forest area, and various causes of forest mortality. Because the forest inventory starts with a sampling of all land uses across a gridded landscape and includes remeasurement of permanent plots, it provides estimates of all land use transitions among forest, agricultural, developed, and other land uses. The effects of weather (e.g. hurricanes, ice storms, and tornados), fire, and insect/disease outbreaks are isolated along with the effects of forest harvesting/management and land use changes.

The southeastern U.S. (Figure 1) provides an especially useful laboratory for exploring forest dynamics: it has more forest land than 96% of the countries reported by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations18, produces >15% of global wood products from largely (89%) private forests, contains intensively managed forests (18%, as indicated by forest planting activity), and is subject to multiple extreme weather and biotic disturbances19 (e.g., hurricanes and wildfires).

 

Read the paper in Scientific Reports