Measuring Carbon Storage in Tropical Forests


Planting trees on worn out farm or pasture land has been proposed as a way to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, in the atmosphere. Forests or woodlots build wood out of gases such as carbon dioxide from the air and water from the soil. Carbon therefore can be stored in wood for a while before it is released back to the air when the wood is burned or decomposed. Reforestation can accomplish several good things at the same time: water purification; recovery of habitat for plants and animals; improvement of local climate conditions, for instance near cloud forests or deserts; and removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Schemes are afoot to start up a carbon market in which people who provide the service of removing carbon from the air will be paid by the people who put it there. Such a market requires some sort of measurement of how much carbon is sequestered by the trees, and for how long. We spoke with Whendee Silver about her recent work in Puerto Rico to measure the long-term carbon storage potential of reforested pastures.

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