Climate change has increased the productivity of forests, according to a new study that synthesizes hundreds of thousands of carbon observations collected over the last quarter century at the Harvard Forest Long-Term Ecological Research site, one of the most intensively studied forests in the world.
The study, published today in Ecological Monographs, reveals that the rate at which carbon is captured from the atmosphere at Harvard Forest nearly doubled between 1992 and 2015. The scientists attribute much of the increase in storage capacity to the growth of 100-year-old oak trees, still vigorously rebounding from colonial-era land clearing, intensive timber harvest, and the 1938 Hurricane — and bolstered more recently by increasing temperatures and a longer growing season due to climate change. Trees have also been growing faster due to regional increases in precipitation and atmospheric carbon dioxide, while decreases in atmospheric pollutants such as ozone, sulfur, and nitrogen have reduced forest stress.
“It is remarkable that changes in climate and atmospheric chemistry within our own lifetimes have accelerated the rate at which forest are capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere,” says Adrien Finzi, professor of biology at Boston University and a co-lead author of the study.