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40-Year Study Reveals New Insights on Carbon

May 12, 2015
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Walter Lyford's hand-drawn map

The middle-aged forests of the East Coast may not look like carbon-storing powerhouses. But New England forests take in enough carbon each year to offset nearly half the region's household carbon dioxide emissions. A new study by HF ecologist Audrey Barker-Plotkin and Summer Research Program alumna Kate Eisen explores how trees are getting the job done.

The study, published this month in the Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society, is a meticulous, 4-decade record of the growth of more than 6,000 individual trees. Today this forest is about 110 years old, and it has grown steadily over the past 42 years; biomass accumulation has not yet leveled off.

Measuring trees in the study area - a 7-acre stretch of woods dominated by red oak and red maple - takes a crew of several scientists about three weeks to complete. The plot has been re-measured 4 times since the initial census by soil scientist Walter Lyford in 1969.

Such a detailed, long-term study like this one is scientifically rare.

The research team is planning the next census for the plot's 50th anniversary, in 2019.

(photo of Walter Lyford's hand-drawn map courtesy of the Harvard Forest Archive)

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