Measuring Carbon Content in Trees Using Tomography

Forest pathologist Bob Marra traveled to the back of a barn in Hamden, Connecticut, which belongs to the state’s Agricultural Experiment Station. There, stacks of wooden sticks, all that remains of 39 trees that were taken down in 2014 from the state’s Great Mountain Forest, can be found.

These cross-sections of tree trunks, known as stem disks — or more informally as cookies — are telling a potentially worrisome tale about the ability of forests to be critical hedges against accelerating climate change. As anyone following the fires burning in the Amazon rainforest knows by now, trees play an important role in helping to offset global warming by storing carbon from atmospheric carbon dioxide — a major contributor to rising temperatures — in their wood, leaves, and roots. The worldwide level of CO2 is currently averaging more than 400 parts per million — the highest amount by far in the last 800,000 years.

But it seems that we have been overestimating the trees and their ability to store carbon, as Marrra’s study suggested that internal decay significantly reduces the amount of carbon stored within a tree.

Find out more about this on Undark

(Image Credit: Jan Ellen Spiegel)

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