Younger Trees: The Future of Carbon Capture

Forests have long been recognized as a crucial instrument in the fight against climate change because of their capacity to absorb and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. However, not all forests are created equal. Unexpectedly, new research using data from the ESA’s SMOS satellite program has discovered that young trees excel at carbon sequestration.

Scientists need to be able to take carbon storage into account in order to better comprehend the intricacies of our climate system and forecast the implications of change. They have attempted to estimate the global carbon balance, but up to now it has been challenging due to uncertainties over the carbon contained in land vegetation.

Recent research funded by the European Space Agency (ESA) explains how scientists utilizing data from the SMOS satellite have for the first time directly witnessed how terrestrial carbon reserves have altered at regional and global scales.

The findings have significant ramifications for the Paris Agreement’s aim of net zero emissions by 2050 and effective monitoring of progress toward mitigating climate change.

The team discovered that throughout the 2010–2019 study period, land-based carbon stocks rose by an average of 510 million tonnes of carbon year. The team was lead by scientists from the French Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement (LSCE).

Boreal and temperate forests contributed the majority of the increase in carbon-rich biomass, with tropical forests contributing just marginally more carbon as a result of deforestation and agricultural disturbances.

Surprisingly, it was discovered that young and middle-aged forests, which are made up of trees between 50 and 140 years of age, had a major role in absorbing atmospheric carbon and accumulating biomass. This research was conducted as part of ESA’s Climate Change Initiative RECCAP-2 project.

Contrary to what was predicted by the vegetation model, woods that were 140 years old and older were roughly carbon neutral.

According to Hui Yang of LSCE, vegetation models that forecast terrestrial carbon stocks frequently overestimate the ability of old-growth forests to retain carbon while underestimating the amount of carbon absorbed by boreal and temperate forests.

“We can monitor and comprehend long-term fluctuations in terrestrial living-biomass using data from space. The significance of forest age in forecasting carbon dynamics in a changing climate is highlighted by our work.

“Climate-friendly Forest management could move forward by postponing and reducing the harvest of timber from young forests.”

As of 2009, the Earth Explorer Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) satellite of the European Space Agency is in orbit. An interferometric radiometer that operates in the L-band microwave spectrum is carried by the satellite.

‘Brightness temperature’ photographs are taken in order to create, as the mission’s name implies, worldwide maps of moisture in surface soils and salt in ocean surface waters.

Recent technology developments have made it feasible to get L-band microwave vegetation optical depth (L-VOD) measurements that are sufficiently reliable to quantify live woody vegetative biomass and identify worldwide changes in terrestrial carbon stocks.

This study’s L-VOD was created by INRAE Bordeaux.

The use of L-VOD data from SMOS has yielded useful insights into the world’s terrestrial carbon storage, according to Philippe Ciais from the LSCE.

The study’s conclusions “have significant ramifications for climate change mitigation efforts, as they contribute to a more precise estimation of the global carbon balance which is needed to inform and track progress towards realizing the goals of the Paris Agreement.”

New information on forest carbon will also be provided by the ESA Earth Explorer mission named Biomass, which is scheduled to launch later in 2019. It will be equipped with a cutting-edge P-band synthetic aperture radar that will provide vital information on the condition of our forests, how they are changing, and how important forests are to the carbon cycle.

The use of SMOS to learn more about carbon uptake by forests is another instance of one of our Earth Explorer research missions exceeding expectations, according to ESA’s Director of Earth Observation Programmes, Simonetta Cheli.

We are hard at work getting ready for the Biomass Earth Explorer mission, which is dedicated to monitoring forest height and biomass because the carbon cycle is so essential to our climate system and the health of our planet. In addition to adding to global efforts to minimize carbon emissions from deforestation and land degradation, information from this future mission will give fresh light on the carbon cycle.

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