Ecosystems Likely To Store Less CO2 Due To Climate Change, New Study Highlights

Ecosystems Likely To Store Less CO2 Due To Climate Change, New Study Highlights - Carbon Herald
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Climate change’s negative effects outweigh the positive ones for tree growth, a new study is examining. According to an analysis by the U.S. Forest Service data, led by UF Biology researchers J. Aaron Hogan and Jeremy W. Lichstein and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, escalating effects of climate change are causing a regional imbalance in forest productivity and overall adversely affect tree growth and biomass accumulation.

The study reveals that over the past two decades, the Western U.S. which experiences more severe climate change impacts, has exhibited a notable slowdown in productivity, while the Eastern U.S., experiencing milder climate effects, has seen slightly accelerated growth. Stronger climate change consequences are slowing down forest growth which is in contrast with the common idea that higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere would result in plant growth. 

“We are witnessing changes in forest functioning as forest ecosystems respond to global change drivers, such as carbon-dioxide-fertilization and climate change… It is the future balance of these drivers which will determine the functioning of forests in the coming years to decades,” explains UF Biology researcher J. Aaron Hogan.

Expectations from scientists are that carbon-dioxide fertilization will have positive effects on plants growth as nature is balancing out the access emissions in the atmosphere with increasing natural carbon sequestration capacities. However, rising temperatures, droughts, disease outbreaks are outweighing the positive effects of climate change, causing forests to experience losses. 

“We hear a lot about wildfires in the Western U.S., which kill a lot of trees and release carbon to the atmosphere… But our study shows that additional ecosystem carbon loss in Western forests is occurring due to declining tree growth rates,” commented Jeremy W. Lichstein. 

“Our study suggests that future projections of climate and sea-level rise may be too optimistic because, in reality, ecosystems are likely to store less carbon in the future… Less ecosystem carbon storage means more carbon in the atmosphere and therefore more warming and accelerating climate change,” he added. 

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Overrelying on nature and thinking it will keep sequestering humanity’s rising emissions turns out to be a dangerous idea as accelerating climate change is more likely to cause diseases outbursts, droughts, floods and other externalities that will prevent forest growth and push forests to reach their tipping points. 

Relevant: Brazil, Indonesia And Democratic Republic Of Congo In Talks To Form Opec For Rainforests

“Ecosystem carbon sequestration is not guaranteed to be permanent, and it can be reversed by climate change… This reversal is already happening in the Western U.S., and there are signs that it may also be happening in other drought-impacted regions of the world, such as the Amazon,” said Mr Lichstein. 

The study also illuminates the fact that climate change is not a uniform force but rather a dynamic agent with region-specific influences. As forests naturally reach a tipping point, or a point where they stop acting as a carbon sink and start acting as a carbon source due to their maturity, scientists are noticing some forests are already approaching or surpassing these thresholds. 

“Our results highlight the need for reduced global greenhouse gas emissions… Without the emissions reductions that scientists have been urging for decades, forest carbon sinks will likely weaken, which will accelerate the pace of climate change,” sums up Mr Lichstein. 

Relevant: New Study Shows Reforestation And Protecting Current Forests Could Store 226GT Of CO2

As scientists are shouting out, humanity cannot find its way out of the climate crisis by approaches intended to serve as a replacement for the complete reduction and stopping of emissions such as carbon capture or carbon removal projects. Carbon dioxide removal could only be effectively used to remove historic emissions over the long-term or hard-to-abate emissions that should not exceed up to 10% of total emissions.

However, the sequestration potential should be carefully estimated and planned for. The path forward for humanity is to take responsibility and re-build an economy that entirely cuts the emission of what is now around 90% of its annual carbon footprint.

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