Carbon benefits from Forest Transitions promoting biomass expansions and thickening
Glob Chang Biol. 2020 Aug 20 Online ahead of print
Kauppi PE, Ciais P, Högberg P, Nordin A, Lappi J, Lundmark T, Wernick IK

The growth of the global terrestrial sink of carbon dioxide has puzzled scientists for decades. We propose that the role of land management practices-from intensive forestry to allowing passive afforestation of abandoned lands-have played a major role in the growth of the terrestrial carbon sink in the decades since the mid twentieth century. The Forest Transition, a historic transition from shrinking to expanding forests, and from sparser to denser forests, has seen an increase of biomass and carbon across large regions of the globe. We propose that the contribution of Forest Transitions to the terrestrial carbon sink has been underestimated. Because forest growth is slow and incremental, changes in the carbon density in forest biomass and soils often elude detection. Measurement technologies that rely on changes in two-dimensional ground cover can miss changes in forest density. In contrast, changes from abrupt and total losses of biomass in land clearing, forest fires and clear cuts are easy to measure. Land management improves over time providing important present contributions and future potential to climate change mitigation. Appreciating the contributions of Forest Transitions to the sequestering of atmospheric carbon will enable its potential to aid in climate change mitigation.

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