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Researchers have calculated the capacity of North American forests to sequester carbon in a detailed analysis that for the first time integrates the effects of two key factors: the natural process of forest growth and regeneration, and climate changes that are likely to alter the growth process over the next 60 years.
The result is a compelling picture that's of great value, because forests play a critical role in mitigating the effects of climate change. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they grow, storing the carbon in their wood.
Lot - Hope - Forests - Carbon - Dioxide
"There's a lot of hope that our forests will soak up the carbon dioxide we're producing, but the capacity of our forests is limited," said lead researcher Kai Zhu, an assistant professor of environmental studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Zhu's team found that North American forests have reached 78 percent of their capacity to sequester carbon and will gain only 22 percent capacity—at most—over the next 60 years. That's a cautionary finding that has implications for forest managers, climate scientists, and policy makers.
Attempts - Forests - Capacity - Carbon - Simulation
Unlike previous attempts to quantify forests' capacity to sequester carbon, which relied on simulation models or satellite data, Zhu's findings are based on exhaustive, ground-based measurements of forests across the continental United States and Canada.
He analyzed data from 140,000 plots in the U.S. Forest Inventory and Analysis program and the Canada Permanent Sample Plots program to document the historical growth of forests and project their growth into the future. But he knew he couldn't produce an accurate forecast without also accounting for climate change.
Job - Future - Recovery - Climate - Change
"To do a good job predicting the future, we have to consider both factors—natural recovery and climate change that modifies growth—because both are important biologically," he said.
Zhu's predictions are based on a complex growth model that incorporates contemporary data from 2000-2016 and "hindcast" observations...
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