Friday, October 8, 2010

Wind River Canopy Crane

Yesterday I had the rare opportunity to visit the Wind River Forest Experiment station and ascend into the canopy of an old growth douglas fir forest in the gondola of a large (250') construction crane. The crane which has been in use for 12 years is used by scientists from UW and the Forest Service to conduct research into the ecosystem of the old growth forest. The views were awsome and I was able to restrain my urge to flee long enough to be strapped into the gondola for the ride. The following video is narrated by one of the scientists as we ascend alongside a 700 year old douglas fir.

I have long suspected that the contribution of forests by way of carbon sequestration to the slowing or elimination of global warming is to a great extent wishful thinking. I believe this because a great deal of the biomass (including, leaves, stems, branches, dead trees etc.) release their CO2 back into the atmosphere as a result of metabolic respiration (decomposition). Consequently the net carbon sequestration is demonstrably less than the gross amount. In conversation with the lead scientist on site I learned that this is a major area of study for the project. They are actually measuring (atomospheric sampling and isotopic analysis) the quantity of CO2 that is absorbed on site and the quantity released. This conversation took place in a 100 year old stand of douglas-fir. The site had been logged by steam donkey in 1910 and badly damaged in the process. Heavy soil compaction and destruction of the understory has resulted in a slow growing stand of undersized trees of very low productivity. When asked about carbon sequestration in this site Ken (lead scientist) replied that this forest unit was a net producer of CO2. This study is currently in pre-publication stage and is being submitted to Science magazine. I look forward to reading it.

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating. Are there other factors that influence the degree to which the CO2 is released back into the atmosphere rather than being re-absorbed by living things? E.g., does more undergrowth help, hurt, not make a difference?

    The Economist had a lengthy cover report a week or two ago that seemed to indicate that deforestation is a serious problem, partly because of the release of sequestered CO2, and partly because forests apparently contribute in a major way to the rainfall cycle over land.


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