Sometimes what seems like the obvious answer may actually turn out to be the exact opposite, even in the world of trees and climate change. What am I talking about? – While many studies over the past decade have pointed to the potential benefits of increased plant growth in the arctic which could capture more carbon from the atmosphere, a more recent study from Northern Europe tells a different story. More trees in the arctic could actually lead to an increased release of carbon from the soil.
Birch forests have been thought of as carbon sinks in the arctic region, a tool to help capture carbon and slow the rate of climate change. According to the study, “A potential loss of carbon associated with greater plant growth in the European Arctic,” researchers report that in Scandinavia these new forests, when planted in what was formerly tundra, can actually cause the release of vast amounts of carbon that had originally been stored in the ground. How much carbon? According to lead author Dr Iain Hartley of the University of Exeter, more than can found in the earth’s atmosphere at any given time.
Critics might use such research to declare all efforts to capture and store carbon as futile and counterproductive, but that is fact not what researchers are concluding. What they recommend is increased research into the relationship between plants and soil, which could include measurements depending on types of trees, geographic location and growing seasons. Anyone who though carbon sinks would be an instant success might be disappointed, but the goal is to understand what will happen in terms of carbon release and storage as the arctic environment continues to change (and warm) in the near future.
Photo: Kyle and Kelly Adams / flickr
Reference: Iain P. Hartley, Mark H. Garnett, Martin Sommerkorn, David W. Hopkins, Benjamin J. Fletcher, Victoria L. Sloan, Gareth K. Phoenix, & Philip A. Wookey (2012). A potential loss of carbon associated with greater plant growth in the European Arctic Nature Climate Change DOI: 10.1038/nclimate1575