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US Forest Service Research & Development
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Research Highlights

Individual Highlight

Global Forests Sequester One-third of Annual Fossil Fuel Emissions, Much More Than Previously Thought

Forest interior in a permanent plot in Amazonian Peru; note the buttressed tree being measured at 5m with the help of a ladder. Abel Monteagudo-Mendoza, University of Leeds, UKSnapshot : Forested land plays a much larger role in removing carbon from the atmosphere than was previously thought, according to Forest Service scientists working with an international team of scientists. One of the key findings in the study is that global forests have annually removed 2.4 billion tons of carbon (8.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide) from the atmosphere, about one-third of annual fossil fuel emissions for the period of 1990-2007.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Pan, YudeBirdsey, Richard
Research Station : Northern Research Station (NRS)
Year : 2011
Highlight ID : 321

Summary

Global forests have annually removed 2.4 billion tons of carbon (8.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide) from the atmosphere, about one-third of annual fossil fuel emissions during 1990 to 2007. This forest carbon sink (the net gain of C by forests) is found in every continent on Earth. The size of the sink varies over time and by region. Understanding the location of the current sink, and the wide range of mechanisms responsible for it, is an important step towards understanding Earth's changing climate system. An international team of scientists from 14 institutes, led by two Forest Service scientists, estimated the global forest carbon sink based on millions of on-the-ground measurements in forests around the world. The study reveals the dominant role of tropical forests for the exchange of carbon between the land and atmosphere and illustrates the importance of reducing tropical deforestation to limit the buildup of atmospheric carbon dioxide. The study also highlights the risk of passively relying on forests to continue to remove carbon from the atmosphere, for such carbon sequestration can be reversed by increased drought, wildfires, and forest degradation.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

 
  • Jingyun Fang and Shilong Piao, Peking University
  • Richard Houghton, Woods Hole Research Center
  • Pekka Kauppi and Aapo Rautianien, University of Helsinki
  • Werner Kurz, Canada Forest Service
  • Oliver Phillips, Simon Lewis, and Steven Sitch, University of Leeds, UK
  • Anatoly Shvidenko, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Austria
  • Josep Canadell, CSIRO, Australia
  • Phillippe Ciais, Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l'Environnement, France
  • Robert Jackson, Duke University
  • Stephen Pacala, Princeton University
  • David McGuire, U.S. Geological Survey
  • Daniel Hayes, Oak Ridge National Laboratory