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A new study from European scientists reveals that European forests are showing signs of reaching a saturation point, and that since 2005, the amount of atmospheric CO2 absorbed by the continent’s trees has been slowing. The paper, which was published in Nature Climate Change, has put the disturbing results down to a declining number of trees and an increase in the number of nature disturbances. While carbon sinks, such as the continent’s forests, have long countered the rise in global CO2 emissions, it is believed that many of Europe’s forests are reaching an age where both their growth and ability to absorb carbon slows down.

Nature Climate Change, deforestation, Co2, carbon emissions, carbon storage and capture, European forests, carbon saturation

Despite the forests recovering from excessive logging, the evidence supported theories that there was a “persistent carbon sink,” which is projected to continue for decades. However, the research team believes that three points support the idea that Europe’s tree stands was nearing a saturation point.

“First, the stem volume increment rate (of individual trees) is decreasing and thus the sink is curbing after decades of increase,” the report stated. “Second, land use is intensifying, thereby leading to deforestation and associated carbon losses. Third, natural disturbances (eg wildfires) are increasing and, as a consequence, so are the emissions of CO2.”

Carbon sinks refer to the capacity of key components in the cycle — such as the soil, oceans, rock and fossil fuels — to store carbon, preventing it from reentering the carbon cycle. But since the Industrial Revolution, the increase in emissions has led to humans ‘modifying’ the cycle. Now, instead of being locked in the geosphere, large amounts of carbon is being released into the atmosphere. Even though trees cover 50 percent of the continent’s landmass, they only absorb 10 percent of the carbon emissions, and that isn’t enough.

“These forests have now reached 70-80 years old and are starting a phase in the life of a tree where the growth rate starts to come down,” said Dr. Nabuurs. “It is time to concentrate more on continuous wood production again and rejuvenate forests again, so then you have growing forests and a continuous flow of wood products.

+ Nature Climate Change

via BBC News

Images: European Environment Agency (EEA) and treesftf