Friday, July 31, 2015

Drought May Stunt Forests’ Ability to Capture Carbon

Colorado forests are still recovering from drought. (Credit: Leander Anderegg) Click to Enlarge.
Forests are sometimes called the lungs of the earth — they breathe in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and store it in tree trunks until the forest dies or burns.  A new study, however, shows that forests devastated by drought may lose their ability to store carbon over a much longer period than previously thought, reducing their role as a buffer between humans’ carbon emissions and a changing climate.

The study, published Thursday in the journal Science by a team of by researchers at the University of Utah and Princeton University, shows that the world’s forests take an average of between two and four years to return to their normal growth and carbon dioxide absorption rate following a severe drought — a finding that has significant climate implications.

“This means that these forests take up less carbon both during drought and after drought,” study lead author William Anderegg, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Utah and a researcher at Princeton University, said.

Forests act as a carbon sinks by absorbing human-emitted carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it in trees’ woody roots and stems.  As climate change affects forests, they’ll store less carbon dioxide because drought stresses them and hinders their ability to grow, making man-made global warming even worse.  Eventually, forests could become a source of carbon instead of storehouse of it.

Read more at Drought May Stunt Forests’ Ability to Capture Carbon

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