POTENTIAL UPPER BOUNDS OF CARBON STORES IN FORESTS OF THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST

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Abstract

Placing an upper bound to carbon (C) storage in forest ecosystems helps to constrain predictions on the amount of C that forest management strategies could sequester and the degree to which natural and anthropogenic disturbances change C storage. The potential, upper bound to C storage is difficult to approximate in the field because it requires studying old-growth forests, of which few remain. In this paper, we put an upper bound (or limit) on C storage in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) of the United States using field data from old-growth forests, which are near steady-state conditions. Specifically, the goals of this study were: (1) to approximate the upper bounds of C storage in the PNW by estimating total ecosystem carbon (TEC) stores of 43 old-growth forest stands in five distinct biogeoclimatic provinces and (2) to compare these TEC storage estimates with those from other biomes, globally. Finally, we suggest that the upper bounds of C storage in forests of the PNW are higher than current estimates of C stores, presumably due to a combination of natural and anthropogenic disturbances, which indicates a potentially substantial and economically significant role of C sequestration in the region. Results showed that coastal Oregon stands stored, on average, 1127 Mg C/ha, which was the highest for the study area, while stands in eastern Oregon stored the least, 195 Mg C/ha. In general, coastal Oregon stands stored 307 Mg C/ha more than coastal Washington stands. Similarly, the Oregon Cascades stands stored 75 Mg C/ha more, on average, than the Washington Cascades stands. A simple, area-weighted average TEC storage to 1 m soil depth (TEC100) for the PNW was 671 Mg C/ha. When soil was included only to 50 cm (TEC50), the area-weighted average was 640 Mg C/ha. Subtracting estimates of current forest C storage from the potential, upper bound of C storage in this study, a maximum of 338 Mg C/ha (TEC100) could be stored in PNW forests in addition to current stores.

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