Climate Change: Carbon Storage May Decrease in Forests in the Next 25 Years

First Posted: Nov 12, 2015 10:59 AM EST

Forests in the United States may store far less carbon in the coming years. Scientists have found that carbon sequestration in U.S. forests may change over the next 25 years.

In order to examine carbon storage in future forests, scientists used detailed forest inventory data. They estimated the amount of atmospheric carbon that U.S. forests currently sequester and then used five different scenarios to project carbon accumulation over the next 25 years. In all of the scenarios, the ability of U.S. forests to sequester carbon declined overall.

"Our projections show only a gradual decline in forest carbon sequestration in the East, but a rapid decline to zero by 2037 in the Rocky Mountain region, where forests could become a carbon emission source due to disturbances such as fire and insect epidemics," said John Coulston, one of the researchers, in a news release. "We found that carbon sequestration in the Pacific Coast region will fluctuate from current levels but then stabilize as forests harvested in previous decades regrow."

The findings reveal the importance of taking steps now in order to reduce the release of carbon emissions and create forests that are more likely to help sequester carbon. In fact, restoring 19.1 million acres over the next 25 years could be huge for influencing the amount of carbon stored.

"Policymakers interested in reducing net carbon emissions in the U.S. need information about future sequestration rates, the variables influencing those rates, and policy options that might enhance sequestration rates," said David Wear, one of the researchers. "The projection scenarios we developed for this study were designed to provide insights into these questions at a scale useful to policymakers."

The findings are published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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