Canadian Forest Service Publications

Decarbonization of the atmosphere: role of the boreal forest under changing climate. 2012. Bhatti, J.; Jassal, R.; Black, T.A. Pages 203-228 in R. Lal, K. Lorenz, R.F. Hüttl, B.U. Schneider and J. von Braun, editors. Recarbonization of the Biosphere—Ecosystems and the Global Carbon Cycle. Springer Press, New York, New York, USA.

Year: 2012

Available from: Northern Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 33768

Language: English

CFS Availability: PDF (request by e-mail)


The boreal forest, with an area of about 11.4 million km 2, is the second largest terrestrial biome and plays a critical role in the global carbon (C) cycle. Its role in either accelerating or slowing climate change depends on whether the boreal forest is a net C source or a net C sink. The boreal forest stores 715.2 Pg C with 430.2 Pg present in peatlands and the remaining in forest ecosystems. In forest, about 60% of total C is present in the soil. The boreal forest sequesters C in surface vegetation, and has accumulated and conserved annual increments of C for millennia in soils, permafrost deposits, wetlands and peatlands. The net annual C sink of the boreal forest increased signifi cantly over the last 20 years, from 0.54 Pg C year −1 to 1.07 Pg C year −1 . The future C balance of the boreal forest largely depends on the frequency and intensity of different disturbances, changes in species composition, forest management regimes and alterations to the nutrient and moisture regimes under changing climate conditions. The role of the boreal forest in the decarbonization of the atmosphere can be strengthened through techniques that reduce the time for stand establishment (such as site preparation, planting, and weed control) or increase the available nutrients for growth, or through the selection of species that are more productive. Fire- and insect-protection activities have a strong impact on the C sink strength of the boreal landscape. Therefore, reducing the area prone to fi re and insect mortality, and extending the rotation age for holding C longer in older age classes will strongly increase the capacity of the boreal forest to decarbonize the atmosphere.

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