More logging, deforestation may better serve climate in some areas

Dec 05, 2013

Replacing forests with snow-covered meadows may provide greater climatic and economic benefits than if trees are left standing in some regions, according to a Dartmouth College study that for the first time puts a dollar value on snow's ability to reflect the sun's energy.

The findings suggest more frequent logging or deforestation may better serve our planet and pocketbooks in high latitude areas where snowfall is common and timber productivity is low. Such a scenario could involve including snow cover/albedo in existing greenhouse gas exchanges like the Kyoto protocol or a cap-and-trade program or ecosystem services market in which landowners are paid to maintain snow cover and produce timber rather than conserve forests and store carbon. Previous studies have put a price on many ecosystem services – or services that nature provides to humans that have both economic and biological value, such as drinking water and crop pollination—but the Dartmouth study is the first to do so for albedo, or the surface reflection of incoming solar energy.

The findings contrast with the dominant paradigm that including forest climate mitigation services such as on compliance markets will lead to the conservation of forests. Instead, the findings show that in some areas, it is better to have snow act as a natural mirror if you want to use forests for climate-related purposes.

The findings will be presented Dec. 12th at the American Geophysical Union's annual fall meeting in San Francisco in the Global Environmental Change High Profile Topics session. A PDF of the study is available on request.

Climate change mitigation projects, such as the Kyoto Protocol, encourage reforestation because growing forests take up carbon dioxide, but previous studies have suggested the cooling aspect of surface albedo could counterbalance the benefits of forest growth.

The Dartmouth researchers placed an economic value on timber through wood prices as well as on albedo and carbon by using a sophisticated model of the climate and economy called an integrated-assessment model. They then examined the potential impact of these values on hardwood and softwood forest rotations in the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire. A rotation period begins when new trees are planted and ends when most of the trees are harvested.

Their results suggest that including the value of albedo can shorten optimal forest rotation periods significantly compared to scenarios where only timber and carbon are considered. For instance, in spruce and fir stands, very short rotation periods of 25 years become economically optimal when albedo is considered. The researchers attributed this to the low timber productivity and substantial snowfall in the White Mountain National Forest. Thus, they expect that in high latitude sites, where snowfall is common and is low, valuing albedo may mean the optimal forest size is near zero.

The researchers note that increased timber harvesting may harm biodiversity and other , so they recommend managers take those factors into account as they try to maximize the flow of timber, carbon storage and albedo in mid- and high-latitude temperate and boreal forests.

Explore further: Two-pronged approach to boost forest carbon storage

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Two-pronged approach to boost forest carbon storage

Oct 21, 2013

More carbon will sometimes be stored in forests if a bigger variety of tree species is planted along with key species - such as nitrogen fixing trees - that are known to contribute strongly to carbon storage, ...

A functional forest ecosystem is more than just trees

Oct 23, 2013

In 2011, the University of Jyväskylä held an academic conference on the ecological restoration of forests. The conference was visited by 53 researchers from 10 European countries. Now the researchers' ideas and discussions ...

Wood not so green a biofuel

Jun 11, 2013

Using wood for energy is considered cleaner than fossil fuels, but a Dartmouth College-led study finds that logging may release large amounts of carbon stored in deep forest soils. The results appear in the journal Global Ch ...

Economic assessment of mountain pine beetle timber salvage

Oct 21, 2013

A recently published study by U.S. Forest Service researchers evaluates potential revenues from harvesting standing timber killed by mountain pine beetle in the western United States. The study shows that while positive net ...

Recommended for you

Underwater elephants

9 hours ago

In the high-tech world of science, researchers sometimes need to get back to basics. UC Santa Barbara's Douglas McCauley did just that to study the impacts of the bumphead parrotfish (Bolbometopon muricatum) on cor ...

Malaysia air quality 'unhealthy' as haze obscures skies

15 hours ago

Air quality around Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur and on Borneo island was "unhealthy" on Tuesday, with one town reaching "very unhealthy" levels as haze—mostly from forest fires in Indonesia—obscured skies.

User comments : 0