Forestry > Global
Carbon Cycles > FAQ
What role do forests play
in carbon sequestration?
The subject of global
warming elicits vivid conversations from scientists,
politicians, students, and private citizens alike.
Reports of mountain glaciers disappearing, rising
ocean water levels, forests and farmlands being lost, and
ozone holes have provoked concern among many people about
the state of the global environment.
Carbon dioxide (CO2)
is the most abundant human-influenced greenhouse gas.
greenhouse gas is found naturally in the atmosphere
in the upper atmosphere it captures sunlight energy and
reflects it back to earth, in turn creating heat. This "blanket"
of gas moderates the earth's temperature. With increasing
levels of carbon dioxide, however, research suggests
that a thicker blanket will produce
Carbon dioxide is an important
molecule for life. All plants that photosynthesize absorb
CO2 from the air, combine it with water, nutrients,
and the energy from the sun to produce food and oxygen.
in CO2 is the building block of plant life
in a pound of wood, for example, there is approximately
1/2-pound of carbon! The oxygen in CO2 is necessary
for all animals. Animals breath it, in turn converting
it back to carbon dioxide. This
carbon cycle (see the image below)
is an essential link among all life as we know it.
Aside from over 6 billion
human beings breathing out CO2 every day, certain
human activities produce large quantities of it.
CO2 is released during energy production
and automobile use; carbon dioxide is released into the
atmosphere during the combustion of carbon-containing fossil
fuels such as coal, oil, petroleum, and natural gas.
When the carbon cycle
is in equilibrium, the amount
of carbon released from storage (e.g. from the burning
of fossil fuels or the decay of plant matter, for example)
stored (e.g. in tree wood). The idea is that we are now
producing more carbon dioxide
this "extra" CO2, is there anything
we can do to help slow global warming?
One idea for capturing
additional carbon is to take advantage of forested areas
as carbon sinks.
All the plants in a forest absorb CO2, but
trees are especially good at long-term storage. In
CO2 is converted to carbon stored in wood.
Wood holds carbon as long as there is no rotting, and
even when wood rots, it releases carbon very slowly.
If the wood from a tree is turned into a forest product,
then the carbon becomes stored in that product! A chair,
a 2-by-4, and a wooden salad bowl all hold carbon until
The more forests we
have, then, the more carbon we can capture. The more
we capture, the fewer greenhouse gases we contribute
to the atmosphere. While planting trees cannot offset
the greenhouse gas production related to human activities,
it certainly does help! Along with every human being
less CO2 (using less gas and coal, for example),
forests really might make a difference.
Here in Oregon, our
balance sheet can stay "in the black" by replanting
forests after harvest, protecting forest soils during
harvest, and strengthening laws that limit conversion
of forests to other, non-forest uses.