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Study: In a Warming World, New England’s Trees Are Storing More Carbon

August 4, 2020
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Senior ecologist Audrey Barker Plotkin works with student researchers Collette Yee and Kate Eisen to measure trees in a long-term Harvard Forest study plot. Photo by Moshe Roberts.

A new study in Ecological Monographs synthesizes hundreds of thousands of carbon observations collected over the last quarter century at the Harvard Forest, following the complex stream of carbon through the forest's air, soil, plants, and water. The scope of the study - as well as its consistency of results - is unprecedented. 

The study reveals that the rate at which carbon is captured from the atmosphere at Harvard Forest nearly doubled between 1992 and 2015. The scientists attribute much of the increase in storage capacity to the growth of 100-year-old oak trees, still vigorously rebounding from colonial-era land clearing, intensive timber harvest, and the 1938 Hurricane – and bolstered more recently by increasing temperatures and a longer growing season due to climate change.

The work was supported by multiple grants from the National Science Foundation, including the Forest's Long-Term Ecological Research Program, as well as grants from the U.S. Dept. of Energy, USDA-NIFA, and NASA. The study was co-led by Audrey Barker Plotkin, Adrien Finzi, and Marc-Andre Giasson, and co-authored by more than two dozen scientists from 11 institutions, with field measurements over the 25-year study period taken by dozens of students in the Harvard Forest Summer Research Program. 

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