The findings create a more complex view of the carbon cycle in forests, where it was already known that logging or other stand-replacement events – whether natural or not – create periods of 5-20 years when there is a net release of carbon dioxide from forests to the atmosphere, instead of sequestration as they do later on.
The end result is a highly variable forest carbon cycle that appears to be heavily influenced by the footprint of humans, one way or another. It’s a complicated process with powerful driving forces that were poorly understood, said scientists from 10 institutions in the U.S., Canada and Europe.
Until this report, researchers had never quantified the effect of continuous low levels of nitrogen deposition – about 5-10 percent of the amount used by a farmer each year - to spur net carbon uptake by forests and actually offset a significant amount of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
This broad study analyzed the carbon balance across a network of forest sites that represent nitrogen deposition in most of Western Europe and the continental United States. Until now, it has been difficult to separate the effects of nitrogen deposition on forests from the many other variables that affect their carbon release or sequestration – things like forest age, logging, wildfires, disease or insect epidemics, or other causes. This study attempted to do that, and found that the net carbon sequestration by temperate and boreal forests was overwhelmingly determined by nitrogen inputs.
“What is surprising is that the net sequestration is quite large for a relatively low level of nitrogen addition,” said Beverly Law, a professor of forest science at Oregon State University, co-author of the study and director of the AmeriFlux monitoring network in North and South America.
“Through our forests, fertilization by nitrogen deposition is to some degree offsetting our carbon dioxide emissions – at least right now,” she said.
It was first recognized in the 1980s that human activities, by releasing unprecedented amounts of active nitrogen into the atmosphere, were not just altering the global nitrogen cycle but also causing the eutrophication of large parts of the biosphere, the researchers said in their report. Nitrogen – produced by automobile engines, factories, and intensive agriculture – is often a key, limiting nutrient in forests and other ecosystems.
Early forest growth puts a severe nitrogen stress on the ecosystem initially, and then the forest continues to grow and remove carbon from the atmosphere for the rest of the management or life cycle, accumulating wood at a high rate on the small additional nitrogen inputs.
This growth and sequestration is achieved without applications of fertilizer that would likely result in nitrous oxide emissions, another greenhouse gas, that would offset the benefits to the atmosphere of carbon removal.
However, it’s known that large additions of nitrogen to ecosystems can also be damaging above a certain threshold, researchers say, and it’s unclear how long this process will continue.
“The results demonstrate that mankind is ultimately controlling the carbon balance of temperate and boreal forests, either directly through forest management or indirectly through nitrogen deposition,” the study authors said.
Ultimately, mature forests, at least in northern latitudes, absorb and sequester substantial amounts of carbon from the atmosphere. Forest protection and management options have been viewed as one mechanism to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and reduce concerns about the greenhouse effect and global warming.
Beverly Law | EurekAlert!
Scientists on the road to discovering impact of urban road dust
18.01.2018 | University of Alberta
Gran Chaco: Biodiversity at High Risk
17.01.2018 | Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
On the way to an intelligent laboratory, physicists from Innsbruck and Vienna present an artificial agent that autonomously designs quantum experiments. In initial experiments, the system has independently (re)discovered experimental techniques that are nowadays standard in modern quantum optical laboratories. This shows how machines could play a more creative role in research in the future.
We carry smartphones in our pockets, the streets are dotted with semi-autonomous cars, but in the research laboratory experiments are still being designed by...
What enables electrons to be transferred swiftly, for example during photosynthesis? An interdisciplinary team of researchers has worked out the details of how...
For the first time, scientists have precisely measured the effective electrical charge of a single molecule in solution. This fundamental insight of an SNSF Professor could also pave the way for future medical diagnostics.
Electrical charge is one of the key properties that allows molecules to interact. Life itself depends on this phenomenon: many biological processes involve...
At the JEC World Composite Show in Paris in March 2018, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be focusing on the latest trends and innovations in laser machining of composites. Among other things, researchers at the booth shared with the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) will demonstrate how lasers can be used for joining, structuring, cutting and drilling composite materials.
No other industry has attracted as much public attention to composite materials as the automotive industry, which along with the aerospace industry is a driver...
Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) and Tohoku University have developed high-quality GFO epitaxial films and systematically investigated their ferroelectric and ferromagnetic properties. They also demonstrated the room-temperature magnetocapacitance effects of these GFO thin films.
Multiferroic materials show magnetically driven ferroelectricity. They are attracting increasing attention because of their fascinating properties such as...
08.01.2018 | Event News
11.12.2017 | Event News
08.12.2017 | Event News
22.01.2018 | Materials Sciences
22.01.2018 | Earth Sciences
22.01.2018 | Life Sciences