UK woodlands could store nearly twice as much carbon as previously estimated — ScienceDaily | Daily News Byte


With the consequences of our understanding of carbon stocks and humanity’s response to climate change, UK forests could be storing almost twice as much carbon as previously estimated, according to a new study involving UCL researchers.

For the study, published today in the journal Ecological solutions and evidence, An international team of scientists used a novel 3D scanning technique and analysis to assess the amount of aboveground biomass (AGB) from 815 trees in a UK forest. The team found that their results were 77% higher than previous estimates (410 t ha-1 Biomass vs 232 tonnes ha-1).

The authors say their study could have implications for the role of forests in coping with climate change, with potential underestimation of forest carbon stocks, which could have both positive and negative consequences for climate policy.

Study co-author Professor Matt Disney (UCL Geography and the National Center for Earth Observation) said: “Forests currently act as a carbon sink in the UK. Maybe. While what we previously thought might sound like an entirely positive outcome, in practice this means that for every hectare of woodland lost, we’re potentially losing about twice as much carbon sink capacity as we thought.

“This has serious implications for our understanding of the benefits of tree protection in terms of climate mitigation — and deforestation and afforestation goals more broadly.”

The study was a collaboration between researchers at UCL, the UK’s National Center for Earth Observation (NCEO), the Universities of Ghent, Oxford and Tampere, the National Physical Laboratory and Silveira. To establish their findings, the team carried out 3D terrestrial laser scanning (TLS) analysis of a 1.4 hectare area of ​​Wytham Woods in Oxfordshire. TLS is a remote sensing technique that emits millions of laser pulses to capture the environment and tree structure in a forest in 3D.

They then used statistical modeling to calculate the density and volume of trees and then calculated the area’s carbon storage capacity and compared it with previous model findings.

The authors say their study calls into question the certainty of estimates of forest carbon storage across the UK, particularly for the largest and most carbon-heavy trees, which are based on currently widely used models that estimate tree mass from trunk diameter. It is likely that previous studies greatly underestimated forest biomass across the UK.

Lead author of the study Professor Kim Calders (Ghent University) said: “Currently, most forest carbon stock estimates are based on simple allometric models that assume that a tree’s size and mass grow at a constant rate. Our findings show that these models problematic, as it is not representative of UK forests. While the model works well for trees smaller than about 50 cm in diameter, which are fairly uniform in terms of their size and mass, for larger, heavier trees Not as we see it. This is much more complex when it comes to structure — and it varies greatly among sites and species.

“It is important that we are able to reduce uncertainty in forest carbon estimates, given that land use, and in particular forest conservation and restoration, constitute a quarter of countries’ current commitments to their Paris Agreement targets.”

Currently, UK biomass stock reporting to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization is based on these allometric models, which the authors say is likely to have resulted in significant under-reporting.

Study co-author Yadvinder Malhi (Oxford University) added: “Wytham Woods is from the University of Oxford and has witnessed more than 70 years of detailed scientific research. This research shows how new approaches can produce surprises even in well-studied forests. Consequences for our understanding of forests and their role in tackling climate change that apply across the UK and beyond.”

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