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Marvin Oey: Imagine being able to store the carbon dioxide released by every single car in the United States, each year. Thatís 300 million tons of carbon per year.
Well, thereís no need to imagine this, because the ecosystems of the eastern United States do that very thing, according to a newly released USGS assessment of carbon storage potential of the eastern U.S. ecoregion.
Thatís right, the majestic forests of the Smokey Mountains, the swamps of the Everglades, the farmlands of Ohio and Indiana are working, right now, to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and store it in plants, soils, and sediments.
In conducting this study, we did not follow political or state boundaries but rather looked at ecoregions Ė areas with similarities in ecology and land cover. The overall study area extends eastward from the western edge of the Great Lakes and the Mississippi floodplains, across the Appalachian Mountains, to the coastal plains of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.
We looked at terrestrial ecosystems, such as forests, wetlands, agricultural lands, shrublands and grasslands. We also looked at aquatic ecosystems, such as rivers, lakes, estuaries and coastal waters.
The forests are the most effective ecosystem at absorbing carbon, accounting for 70% of the regionís total storage. Wetlands are the next most effective, with 13% of the total storage. Farmlands account for only 4%.
The USGS studies two methods for removing carbon from the atmosphere. The first is called biologic carbon sequestration, which is the ability of ecosystems to naturally store carbon. The second type is geologic carbon sequestration, where carbon dioxide is pressurized into a liquid, then pumped into storage deep underground in rock formations.
This assessment of Eastern U.S. biologic carbon sequestration completes the Lower 48 states. We expect to finish Alaska and Hawaii sometime next year.
We also looked at future carbon storage potential in the East. Although ecosystems are expected to continue absorbing more carbon, the overall rate of absorption could slow, depending on projected land-use change, by up to 20% by 2050.
In other words, these ecosystems are projected to keep taking in more carbon in future years, but the amount of carbon removed from the atmosphere could get smaller and smaller each year, depending on which scenario plays out.
This is largely due to projected decreases in forests as forestlands are converted into farms or urban areas. The Southeast in particular could see a significant change in land use by 2050, with a change of 30% possible under some scenarios.
As cities grow and expand, demand for forest products could also increase, leading to fewer forestlands to store carbon.
In addition, these land-use changes are projected to cause an increase in nutrient and sediment flow from urban and agricultural lands toward coastal areas. This could increase the amount of carbon stored in coastal ecosystems, by as much as 18 to 56%.
Our assessment creates a starting point for future land management decision-making. Incorporating carbon science directly in management planning is critical to ensure sound land use and land management decisions.
Title: Eastern U.S. Biological Carbon Storage Potential Assessment
USGS has released the assessment of biological carbon sequestration potential in eastern U.S. ecosystems.
Location: Reston, VA, USA
Date Taken: 6/24/2014
Video Producer: Alex Demas , U.S. Geological Survey
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Additional Video Credits:
Narration: Marvin Oey
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