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Forests have long served as a critical carbon sink, consuming about a quarter of the carbon dioxide pollution produced by humans worldwide. But decades of fire suppression, warming temperatures and drought have increased wildfire risks—turning California's forests from carbon sinks to carbon sources.
A study from the University of California, Davis, found that grasslands and rangelands are more resilient carbon sinks than forests in 21st century California. As such, the study indicates they should be given opportunities in the state's cap-and-and trade market, which is designed to reduce California's greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.
Findings - July - Journal - Environmental - Research
The findings, published July 10 in the journal Environmental Research Letters, could inform similar carbon offset efforts around the globe, particularly those in semi-arid environments, which cover about 40 percent of the planet.
"Looking ahead, our model simulations show that grasslands store more carbon than forests because they are impacted less by droughts and wildfires," said lead author Pawlok Dass, a postdoctoral scholar in Professor Benjamin Houlton's lab at UC Davis. "This doesn't even include the potential benefits of good land management to help boost soil health and increase carbon stocks in rangelands."
Forests - Grasslands - Carbon - Underground - Forests
Unlike forests, grasslands sequester most of their carbon underground, while forests store it mostly in woody biomass and leaves. When wildfires cause trees to go up in flames, the burned carbon they formerly stored is released back to the atmosphere. When fire burns grasslands, however, the carbon fixed underground tends to stay in the roots and soil, making them more adaptive to climate change.
"In a stable climate, trees store more carbon than grasslands," said co-author Houlton, director of the John Muir Institute of the Environment at UC Davis. "But in a vulnerable, warming, drought-likely future, we could lose some of the most productive carbon sinks on the planet. California is on...
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