WWETAC Projects

Project Title: Developing a web-based forest management and fire carbon calculator

Principal Investigator: Mark Harmon, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR; Thomas Spies, USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station, Corvallis, OR

Collaborators: Alan Ager, Western Wildland Environmental Threat Assessment Center, Prineville, OR

Status: Ongoing

E-mail Contact: mark.harmon[at]oregonstate.edu

Key Issue/Problems Addressed: Information on how forests can be managed to store more carbon is in great demand.  In addition the effects of fuel treatments and wildfires on carbon sequestration are poorly understood.  While scientists have developed models to provide some of the required answers, these are often far too complicated for the average manager to use directly.  The alternative is to use one-size-fits-all answers, which typically do not apply to a particular forest management situation.  This is not only confusing, but it also leaves many managers without a way of evaluating carbon sequestration effects. Models are an excellent way for people to learn about how the forest carbon cycle works and predict the potential impact of forest management actions. However, to serve this purpose the model has to be as simple as possible, relatively transparent, and produce output in a form that can be readily assimilated.  We propose to develop an online forest carbon calculator similar to the carbon footprint calculators that are currently available.  Such a calculator would provide a simple user interface, perform the calculations, provide background on the calculations, as well as provide clear tabular and graphical reports. The carbon model used in the Forest Carbon Calculator 1.0 would be a life cycle analysis tool that considers the flows and stores of carbon in the forest itself, the wood products sector, and landfills. The forest would consider live, dead, and soil carbon.  The wood products sector would consider wood products, bioenergy, product substitution effects, and energy costs for harvest and transportation. The user would be asked to provide answers to a series of questions such as the starting condition of the forest, the planned harvest interval, amount harvested, the use of the harvest, the distance between the harvest and milling sites, and the desired effects of prescribed fire.  The model would then calculate and present the net change in carbon stores and component carbon store over time, long-term average store, and the overall net change in carbon stores. To assist the user, default parameters describing growth, mortality, decomposition, natural disturbance regimes, manufacturing efficiencies, and longevity of forest products would be stored for forests common to North America. The user could use these default values or enter their own values. 

carbon calculator model

Figure 1. The carbon pools and major processes to be simulated in the carbon calculator.

Study Objectives and Goals: The objective of this project is to develop a relatively simple, transparent online model of forest carbon dynamics that managers can use to quickly assess the potential impact of proposed management activities.  This model would be the starting point to evaluate the potential impact of management actions, wildfire, and assumptions about wood products and decomposition in landfills.  The model would provide a first approximation of effects and allow managers to determine if they need to analyze their plans with more sophisticated models.  The model would also serve an important education role to help managers understand the important components and interactions associated with carbon sequestration in forest ecosystems and forest products.  These are not necessarily the same as used for timber management, the focus of most managers training. To achieve this objective we will program the simulation model by simplifying more complicated existing models (STANDCARB and LANDCARB; Harmon and Marks 2002; Cohen et al 1996), develop an intuitive user interface, and provide default parameter values for common North American forest ecosystems. 

General Description: The proposed model would take a life cycle analysis by considering the flows and stores of carbon in the forest itself and the wood products sector including landfills (Figures 1). The forest would consider live, dead, and soil carbon as well as charcoal.  The wood products sector would consider wood products, bioenergy, product substitution effects, and energy costs for harvest and transportation. The user would be asked to provide answers to a series of questions such as the starting condition of the forest, the planned harvest interval, amount harvested, the use of the harvest, the distance between the harvest and milling sites, and the desired effects of prescribed fire.  The model would then calculate and present the net change in total carbon stores and component carbon stores over time, the long-term average store, and the overall net change in carbon stores. To assist the user, default parameters describing growth, mortality, decomposition, natural disturbance regimes, manufacturing efficiencies, and longevity of forest products would be stored for forests common to North America. The user could use these default values or enter project specific values. 

Status:

Products:

Model - Version 1.0 of carbon calculator including website where it can be accessed and user guide

Draft manuscript - Draft manuscript describing the model and giving examples of its use

Background Citations:

Cohen, W.B., M.E. Harmon, D.O. Wallin, and M. Fiorella. 1996. Two decades of carbon flux from forests of the Pacific Northwest. Bioscience 46:836-844.

Harmon, M. E., Marks, B.  2002.   Effects of silvicultural treatments on carbon stores in forest stands.  Canadian Journal of Forest Research 32: 863-877. 

Project ID: FY09AA63