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Goal: Apply Knowledge Globally U.S. lands show decreasing capacity to sequester carbon

Land sequesters huge amounts of carbon—historically, enough to offset carbon emissions from transportation, industry, and other sectors. Of all types of land cover, forests store the largest amount of carbon. However, new research reports that changes in land cover will likely diminish the ability of land to offset carbon emissions.

Director’s Choice
Researchers used the USGS National Land Cover Database, an ecosystem model, and the Google Earth Engine cloud computing platform to isolate and identify the effects of land use and land cover changes on forest carbon sequestration. USDA Forest Service photo.

Natural climate solutions to reduce carbon emissions are gaining momentum in the U.S. Most of these solutions rely on land-based practices, often on agriculture or forest lands. The ability of such lands to sequester carbon is influenced by land cover change and climate.

The Southern Research Station and partners examined trends in carbon sequestration rates with respect to changes in land cover and climate between 2001 and 2016. The results suggest that forest loss reduces overall sequestration rates. Land cover change and forest loss were stronger drivers than climate change over the period examined.

Lands of the U.S. currently sequester about 200 million metric tons of carbon every year. The land sector continues to sequester carbon, but the study results indicate that the rate is decreasing by about 2 million metric tons a year, on average.

The findings highlight the interactions between changes in land cover and the gross carbon sequestration rate. The research supports the notion that stabilizing the land base, particularly forests and agriculture, is an important component of natural climate solution strategies.

Principal Investigators
John Coulston, Acting Program Manager, Supervisory Research Forester
4855 - Center for Integrated Forest Science
Strategic Program Area
Inventory and Monitoring
Land cover change-induced decline in terrestrial gross primary production over the conterminous United States from 2001 to 2016
Research Partners
James Vose - SRS (Retired)
External Partners
Yulong Zhang - University of North Carolina
Conghe Song - University of North Carolina
Taehee Hwang - Indiana University
Kimberly Novick - Indiana University
Matthew Dannenberg - University of Iowa
Christopher Hakkenberg - Northern Arizona University
Jiafu Mao - Oak Ridge National Lab
Curtis Woodcock - Boston University