DOI News


New Study Documents Natural Landscapes’ Role in Absorbing Carbon


12/03/2012


By David J. Hayes, Deputy Secretary, Department of the Interior

Scientists at the United States Geological Survey today released results of a carbon sequestration study that shows that the western United States is a major sink for carbon—sequestering nearly 100 million tons a year, or about 5% of the nation’s estimated greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon that is absorbed or “sequestered” by nature helps reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, reducing the harmful effects of greenhouse gas emissions and potentially reducing the severity of global climate change. The 100 million tons of carbon sequestered in the western United States each year counterbalances the annual emissions of roughly 83 million passenger cars.

This groundbreaking study confirms the important role that our natural landscapes play in absorbing carbon and counteracting greenhouse gas emissions. The study demonstrates the positive role our forests, wetlands, and rangelands play in the carbon cycle and in combating climate change.

Today’s report is just a piece of a broader, nationwide study the USGS has underway to quantify carbon stocks—carbon already on the land—and carbon fluxes—how much carbon the land absorbs from the atmosphere through photosynthesis and other processes—for the entire United States. The USGS study is the first of its kind to quantify these factors across such a broad area and with such fine-grain detail. Grounded in location-specific data, the study will enable land managers to “map” the carbon absorption of their land areas—whether a state, watershed, or national park—and to track changes over time.

Already, the USGS is using this data to research the impacts of land management on carbon storage by comparing lands within Yellowstone National Park to lands immediately adjacent to the park. More generally, these new data will allow land mangers to better understand the carbon impacts of a whole host of landscape-level changes such as fire, urban sprawl, drought, and noxious insect infestation.

This study is part of the Administration’s push to better understand and reduce overall carbon emissions. Now, federal, state, and local governments as well as private citizens will be able to measure how much our natural landscapes contribute to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to the responsible stewardship of our land for future generations.

For more information on the report, click here.