Africa: Forest sequestration second only to South America

The findings, published in Nature, confirm that Africa’s forests are
second only to those of South America, which cover a bigger area, in
locking away CO2 that would otherwise stay in the atmosphere and
disrupt the climate. Based on long-term monitoring of around 70,000
trees in 79 one-hectare plots across ten African countries, these are
the first direct observations on biomass change and carbon absorption
in African forests that are of comparable rigour to previous Amazonian

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The researchers analyzed the African results in combination with
existing data on South American and Asian forests. The results, based
on monitoring over time of some 250,000 trees, show that tropical
forests remove about 4.8 billion tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere
every year. African forests account for 1.2 billion of these.

So far this capacity even seems to be increasing – it’s not certain why, but researchers think the extra CO2 in the atmosphere could be acting like a fertiliser and letting plants grow more quickly. But trees can only grow bigger for so long, before other factors such as soil nutrients limit growth.

The scientists warn that action is urgently needed to curb the deforestation that threatens forests across the tropics. ‘It’s not at all clear how tropical forests will respond to rising temperatures,’ explains Lewis. ‘It could be that they will shut down photosynthesis, and that this could offset the current carbon sink. It’s a real concern – some models show carbon absorption reaching a plateau, others predict slow decline, and others show the forests declining steeply and turning into a major carbon source.’

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