Environmental Science Division (EVS)a Division of Argonne National Laboratory

Reforestation can sequester globally significant amount of carbon in U.S. surface soils

March 9, 2018

Replanting trees after events like last year's catastrophic Western wildfires not only is critical to forest recovery, but could actually help soils take up more carbon from the atmosphere than if the burned areas were just left idle or cultivated.

Soils store more carbon than the vegetation and atmosphere combined, therefore a small change in soil carbon has large implications in the atmospheric CO2 concentration and the global carbon cycle. However, soils at a certain location can act both as a source or sink of atmospheric carbon depending upon the land use and management. Therefore, it is essential to quantify the increases in soil carbon achievable through changes in the land use and management.

EVS scientist Umakant Mishra co-authored a study with six other U.S. scientists that combined 15,000 soil profile observations with remote sensing and geospatial information to quantify the change in carbon content of the surface soils of lands that are currently undergoing reforestation in the continental U.S. The researchers found that over the course of a century, topsoils on already existing reforested cultivated land like farms can take up between 0.8 and 1.6 billion tons of carbon, while topsoils associated with reforestation of disturbed forests can take up about 0.5 billion tons. That means a total of 1.3 to 2.1 billion tons of carbon will be removed from the atmosphere over the next 100 years with no additional effort.

Read the full article by Argonne's Sue Vorenberg.

In a recent study, Argonne researchers helped determine the rate at which reforested and undisturbed forest soils absorb carbon from the atmosphere. They found that in the next 100 years, already existing reforestation in the country could help topsoil absorb an additional 2 billion tons of carbon.
In a recent study, Argonne researchers helped determine the rate at which reforested and undisturbed forest soils absorb carbon from the atmosphere. They found that in the next 100 years, already existing reforestation in the country could help topsoil absorb an additional 2 billion tons of carbon. [Source: Argonne National Laboratory]
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portrait of Umakant Mishra