Baseline and Projected Future Carbon Storage and Greenhouse-Gas Fluxes in Ecosystems of the Western United States

US Geological Survey / edited by Zhiliang Zhu and Bradley C. Reed

Forests, grasslands and shrublands and other ecosystems in the West sequester nearly 100 million tons (90.9 million metric tons) of carbon each year, according to a Department of the Interior report released today…

The report, authored by U.S. Geological Survey scientists, is part of a congressionally mandated national assessment of carbon storage and sequestration capacities by ecosystems. This assessment estimates the ability of different ecosystems in the West to store carbon — information that will be vital for science-based land-use and land-management decisions. The first report, on the Great Plains, was released in December 2011; reports on the eastern United States, Alaska, and Hawaii will follow…

Although the ecosystems varied widely in their potential for storing carbon now and in the future, the study found that forests are by far the largest carbon-storing pools, accounting for about 70 percent of the carbon stored in the West. Forests occupy 28 percent of the land in the West, contain the most carbon per unit area, and have the second-highest rate of sequestration of ecosystem types. Wetlands had the highest rate of sequestration of all ecosystem types, but because they cover less than 1 percent of the West, the amount of carbon they sequester is far less significant from a regional perspective.

Grasslands and shrublands also store a lot of the West’s carbon: this land type covers nearly 60 percent of the West and contains 23 percent of the region’s carbon stored between 2001 and 2005. Agricultural lands, which comprise about 6 percent of the West, contain 4.5 percent of the carbon stored during the same period.

Although the ecosystems of the West serve as a strong carbon sink now, the study estimates that by 2050 the region could experience a decline of the storage potential, depending on future changes in land-use, climate and wildfires. Future carbon stocks, the USGS authors noted, will be inextricably linked to these drivers because as ecosystems, forests or agricultural lands are converted for other uses, their ability to capture and store carbon is affected…


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