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Trees and Carbon Uptake

Believe it or not, spring is just around the corner. One activity associated with the spring is the planting of trees. People plant trees for a variety of reasons including beautification, growing crops like fruit or nuts, developing wildlife habitat, buffering noise or wind, growing future timber products, and cleaning the environment, such as planting trees for improved air or water quality.  Trees and forests also take up or “sequester” carbon in their tissue, especially the wood.  

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Excess carbon is currently being blamed for global warming and changing weather patterns. There is much debate as to whether global warming is occurring, but the fact remains that trees take up carbon and give off oxygen while they are growing, through the process of photosynthesis.  Experts believe that the average acre of temperate forest (forests found in Maryland) sequesters about 103 tons of carbon, while tropical forests sequester about 110 tons of carbon.  The forests to the north, “boreal forests,” sequester about 180 tons of carbon per acre.  The reason given for higher rates of carbon sequestration are that tropical forests grow faster than local forests, and boreal forests have very slow decomposition rates so that organic matter does not release carbon very quickly through decomposition. The combined forests throughout the globe absorb about 18% of the carbon that is generated by burning fossil fuels.  Our temperate forests absorb about .7 billion tons of carbon a year, while the forests in the tropics are releasing about 2.2 billion tons of carbon a year, mostly through the  widespread burning that is occurring following deforestation.  Some estimate that a new tree plantation soaks up about 8 – 10 tons of carbon per year for the first 50 years or so, then it slows as the trees begin to age.  Another interesting statistic is that the average American would have to plant about 150 trees per year to offset the amount of carbon they generate, and thus become carbon neutral.  So, if you are feeling a little guilty about your carbon footprint, you can get out and plant some trees.  It’s also a good way to get some fresh air and burn off some of those pounds that you acquired during this very long winter.

Article by Frederick County Forest Conservancy District Board
Nature Note for 4/14/2019