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Northern Research Station
One Gifford Pinchot Drive
Madison, WI 53726
(608) 231-9318
(608) 231-9544 TTY/TDD

Clean Air and Water

Forest Carbon Models and Budgets

[image:] Graph indicating Forest carbon budgetResearch Issue

There is increasing interest in accurate estimates of national, regional, state, and local carbon fluxes, and identification of the causes of land / atmosphere / ocean exchange of carbon.  Because forests store large quantities of carbon and these stocks are affected by many factors, accurate monitoring of forest carbon stocks and fluxes is a critical component of strategies to manage greenhouse gas emissions and sequestration.  Long-term operational forest monitoring programs are the basis for estimating and reporting carbon stocks and stock changes for forests of the United States.  Forest carbon monitoring is also important for supporting greenhouse gas registries and their reporting requirements, and is one of the main ways that forest carbon sequestration can be valued for trading as “offsets” in emissions reduction programs. 

One of the research challenges is to develop and provide cost-effective methods for measuring, monitoring, and modeling changes in forest carbon and attributing the observed changes to specific causes.  Without such methods, effective policies cannot be developed, and inclusion of forestry in greenhouse gas reduction programs will be minimized.  There is also a strong science applications component, since there is a very large unmet demand for consistent and reliable estimates of forest carbon stocks and changes in carbon stocks for States and other domains such as National Forests or watersheds. 

Our Research

This is one of the long-term emphasis areas of the Northern Research Station’s Global Change Research Program.

  • We provide basic science and technical support for development of state, regional, national, and international greenhouse gas action plans.
  • We quantify carbon stocks and fluxes in forests and wood products of the U.S., Canada, China, and Russia. 
  • We develop methods and estimates for the forest sector of the U.S. greenhouse gas inventories compiled by USDA, EPA, and many states.
  • We develop forest carbon accounting tools and information for forest landowners and managers responding to national and regional greenhouse gas registries.
  • We conduct research on the role of forests in the global carbon cycle, and how carbon stocks change in response to management and disturbance.

Expected Outcomes

Increased carbon sequestration in forests and forest products is an important element of a comprehensive strategy to reduce net emissions of greenhouse gases.  U.S. forests and forest products currently remove 200 million tons of carbon from the atmosphere each year, offsetting 10% of U.S. emissions from fossil fuels.  There are a variety of opportunities to develop and apply forest management technology to maintain and enhance the role of forests and forest products as carbon sinks, to provide additional income to forest landowners from sale of carbon credits, and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The keys to increased carbon sequestration and reduced greenhouse gas emissions are enhanced productivity, sustainable resource management systems based on understanding and manipulating biological processes, and developing effective deployment strategies and implementation technologies.  Evolving markets may eventually increase the value of carbon sequestration in the U.S.  Forestry activities to improve carbon management support other goals of forest landowners such as producing wood products or restoring ecosystems.  

Research Results

NRS has developed an extensive list of research papers and applied products regarding forest carbon models and budgets, including:

Research Participants

Principal Investigator

  • Rich Birdsey, Program Manager, US Forest Service- Northern Research Station
  • Linda Heath, Research Forester, US Forest Service – Northern Research Station
  • James Smith, Plant Physiology/Modeling, US Forest Service – Northern Research Station
  • Yude Pan , Research Forester, US Forest Service – Northern Research Station
  • Coeli Hoover, Research Ecologist, US Forest Service – Northern Research Station

Research Partners

  • Paul Van Deusen, National Council for Air and Stream Improvement


Last Modified: 08/20/2009