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Charcoal and carbon storage in forest soils of the Rocky Mountain West

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Abstract

Charcoal represents a super-passive form of carbon (C) that is generated during fire events and is one of the few legacies of fire recorded in the soil profile; however, the importance of this material as a form of C storage has received only limited scientific attention. Here, we review the formation of charcoal in temperate and boreal forest ecosystems, discuss some of its desirable properties, and estimate the potential contribution charcoal to long-term C sequestration in forest ecosystems. Charcoal deposition over the course of several mil lennia probably accounts for a substantial proportion of the total soil C pool in fire-maintained forest ecosystems. Forest management processes that interfere with natural fire processes eliminate the formation of this passive form of C. We recommend that charcoal be considered in C storage budgets and modeling of forest ecosystems, especially in light of climate change and increasing occurrence of wildfire.

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