European Forests are Reaching a Carbon Saturation Point

Joshua Thaisen

As forests begin to thin and countries continue to pour emissions into their atmosphere, the delicate natural cycle that allows trees to soak in atmospheric CO2 is continually disrupted.  The natural worlds inability to return to a balanced state in the carbon cycle can partially be attributed to the natural carbon sinks of world reaching a point of saturation.


carbon cycleThe carbon cycle is a natural process that has been essential in the world’s evolution, along with the human race. The carbon cycle is the exchange of natural gases between the geosphere (land), hydrosphere, (sea) and atmosphere. 


Forests act as natural carbon sinks, as trees are able to convert atmospheric CO2 into stored carbon in their trunks, roots, and leaves. Carbon sinks have been playing a key roll in the global carbon cycle due to their ability to offset emissions in an increasingly industrialized world. A report published earlier this month by Nature Climate Change (NCC), has found that the European uptake of atmospheric CO2 has been slowing down since 2005.  The report discovered that the rate at which trees have been able to absorb atmospheric CO2 has slowed as European forests are reaching a saturation point as a result of a “declining volume of trees, deforestation and the impact of natural disturbances”.


The NCC said in their report that the continents forests have been recovering after aswiss national parksystematic replanting initiative after WW2. "These re-growing forests have shown to be a persistent carbon sink, projected to continue for decades, however, there are early signs of saturation. Forest policies and management strategies need revision if we want to sustain the sink," the Nature Climate Change report said.


 However as the trees grow older, their ability to ingest CO2 naturally slows down. The aging forests of Europe are heading towards a point of carbon saturation, threatening the continents main natural defense system against global warming. A team of scientists that released the study for the NCC observed three warning signs indicating that European forests were reaching this saturation point.


"First, the stem volume increment rate (of individual trees) is decreasing and thus the sink is curbing after decades of increase," they wrote.

"Second, land use is intensifying, thereby leading to deforestation and associated carbon losses.

"Third, natural disturbances (e.g. wildfires) are increasing and, as a consequence, so are the emissions of CO2."


carbon emissions Once a carbon sink hits the point of saturation, the region will no longer have a natural defense mechanism to offset carbon emissions. Researcher Dr. Gert-Jan Nabuurs from Wageningen University, Netherlands, said, “Calculations suggest the saturation point could be reached by around 2030 unless governments took action”. Meaning that if the region doesn’t find a way to completely curb its level of emissions the atmosphere will become increasingly toxic, raising temperatures and accelerating our need to implement alternate energy sources.


Researcher Dr. Gert-Jan Nabuurs, offered a solution to the immediate crisis of carbon sink saturation, suggesting that whilst the preservation of old forests is important, and necessary, “perhaps policy makers at a national level need to concentrate on more continuous wood production, and rejuvenate forests, so then you will have growing forests and a continuous wood supply”. This initiative would accelerate the uptake of atmospheric CO2 in the more productive early growth periods of trees, whilst encouraging industry to be more environmentally sustainable. Dr. Nabuurs concluded that in the future “ forest management will be an obligatory part of reaching emission reduction targets”.

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  • Posted on Aug. 23, 2013. Listed in:

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