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      Increasing carbon storage in intact African tropical forests

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          Abstract

          The response of terrestrial vegetation to a globally changing environment is central to predictions of future levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide. The role of tropical forests is critical because they are carbon-dense and highly productive. Inventory plots across Amazonia show that old-growth forests have increased in carbon storage over recent decades, but the response of one-third of the world's tropical forests in Africa is largely unknown owing to an absence of spatially extensive observation networks. Here we report data from a ten-country network of long-term monitoring plots in African tropical forests. We find that across 79 plots (163 ha) above-ground carbon storage in live trees increased by 0.63 Mg C ha(-1) yr(-1) between 1968 and 2007 (95% confidence interval (CI), 0.22-0.94; mean interval, 1987-96). Extrapolation to unmeasured forest components (live roots, small trees, necromass) and scaling to the continent implies a total increase in carbon storage in African tropical forest trees of 0.34 Pg C yr(-1) (CI, 0.15-0.43). These reported changes in carbon storage are similar to those reported for Amazonian forests per unit area, providing evidence that increasing carbon storage in old-growth forests is a pan-tropical phenomenon. Indeed, combining all standardized inventory data from this study and from tropical America and Asia together yields a comparable figure of 0.49 Mg C ha(-1) yr(-1) (n = 156; 562 ha; CI, 0.29-0.66; mean interval, 1987-97). This indicates a carbon sink of 1.3 Pg C yr(-1) (CI, 0.8-1.6) across all tropical forests during recent decades. Taxon-specific analyses of African inventory and other data suggest that widespread changes in resource availability, such as increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, may be the cause of the increase in carbon stocks, as some theory and models predict.

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          Most cited references 26

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          Towards robust regional estimates of CO2 sources and sinks using atmospheric transport models.

          Information about regional carbon sources and sinks can be derived from variations in observed atmospheric CO2 concentrations via inverse modelling with atmospheric tracer transport models. A consensus has not yet been reached regarding the size and distribution of regional carbon fluxes obtained using this approach, partly owing to the use of several different atmospheric transport models. Here we report estimates of surface-atmosphere CO2 fluxes from an intercomparison of atmospheric CO2 inversion models (the TransCom 3 project), which includes 16 transport models and model variants. We find an uptake of CO2 in the southern extratropical ocean less than that estimated from ocean measurements, a result that is not sensitive to transport models or methodological approaches. We also find a northern land carbon sink that is distributed relatively evenly among the continents of the Northern Hemisphere, but these results show some sensitivity to transport differences among models, especially in how they respond to seasonal terrestrial exchange of CO2. Overall, carbon fluxes integrated over latitudinal zones are strongly constrained by observations in the middle to high latitudes. Further significant constraints to our understanding of regional carbon fluxes will therefore require improvements in transport models and expansion of the CO2 observation network within the tropics.
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            Weak northern and strong tropical land carbon uptake from vertical profiles of atmospheric CO2.

            Measurements of midday vertical atmospheric CO2 distributions reveal annual-mean vertical CO2 gradients that are inconsistent with atmospheric models that estimate a large transfer of terrestrial carbon from tropical to northern latitudes. The three models that most closely reproduce the observed annual-mean vertical CO2 gradients estimate weaker northern uptake of -1.5 petagrams of carbon per year (Pg C year(-1)) and weaker tropical emission of +0.1 Pg C year(-1) compared with previous consensus estimates of -2.4 and +1.8 Pg C year(-1), respectively. This suggests that northern terrestrial uptake of industrial CO2 emissions plays a smaller role than previously thought and that, after subtracting land-use emissions, tropical ecosystems may currently be strong sinks for CO2.
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              Increasing biomass in Amazonian forest plots.

              A previous study by Phillips et al. of changes in the biomass of permanent sample plots in Amazonian forests was used to infer the presence of a regional carbon sink. However, these results generated a vigorous debate about sampling and methodological issues. Therefore we present a new analysis of biomass change in old-growth Amazonian forest plots using updated inventory data. We find that across 59 sites, the above-ground dry biomass in trees that are more than 10 cm in diameter (AGB) has increased since plot establishment by 1.22 +/- 0.43 Mg per hectare per year (ha(-1) yr(-1), where 1 ha = 10(4) m2), or 0.98 +/- 0.38 Mg ha(-1) yr(-1) if individual plot values are weighted by the number of hectare years of monitoring. This significant increase is neither confounded by spatial or temporal variation in wood specific gravity, nor dependent on the allometric equation used to estimate AGB. The conclusion is also robust to uncertainty about diameter measurements for problematic trees: for 34 plots in western Amazon forests a significant increase in AGB is found even with a conservative assumption of zero growth for all trees where diameter measurements were made using optical methods and/or growth rates needed to be estimated following fieldwork. Overall, our results suggest a slightly greater rate of net stand-level change than was reported by Phillips et al. Considering the spatial and temporal scale of sampling and associated studies showing increases in forest growth and stem turnover, the results presented here suggest that the total biomass of these plots has on average increased and that there has been a regional-scale carbon sink in old-growth Amazonian forests during the previous two decades.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Nature
                Nature
                Springer Science and Business Media LLC
                0028-0836
                1476-4687
                February 2009
                February 2009
                : 457
                : 7232
                : 1003-1006
                Article
                10.1038/nature07771
                19225523
                © 2009

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