Sustainable Biomass Use in the Northern Forest
Collaborators on this project: Chelsea Vario, Rachel Neurath, Lynne Zummo, Serita Frey
There are reasons to question whether increased reliance on biomass in the northern forest will actually contribute to stabilizing or reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. Many researchers have concluded that older forests in the Northern Forest are in a near-steady state (i.e., respiratory losses are equal to photosynthetic uptake) and are no longer actively sequestering carbon. If this is true, then burning wood to displace fossil fuel, and converting older forests to younger, faster growing forests should utilize modern carbon rather than fossil carbon and replace a carbon-neutral forest with a carbon accumulating forest. Under this scenario, the carbon released by burning wood from a mature forest would be sequestered more rapidly by young forests than old forests and would result in a net reduction in atmospheric carbon concentrations. However, if during the removal of biomass, sequestered carbon stored deep in soil is mobilized and released to the atmosphere, the active harvesting of woody biomass may not actually be carbon neutral. Our recent work, and that of others, has led to the suggestion that deep-soil carbon in eastern North American soils may be released during logging activities.