Nearly 70 years after this major disturbance, experimental forested plots in the current study have not returned to a point where they store as much carbon as the original stands. And researchers aren't sure just how long it might take to return to that point.
Forests serve as storage areas for carbon in the form of carbon dioxide, a key atmospheric pollutant that contributes to global climate change.
Although many of these harvested areas have regrown, poor forest management practices at the turn of the 20th century have reduced by half the amount of carbon that modern forests can store, said Christopher Gough, the study's lead author and a postdoctoral researcher in evolution, ecology and organismal biology at Ohio State University.
"It's remarkable that there is still this huge reduction in forest productivity," Gough said.
The more carbon that a forest can store, the more productive that forest is thought to be.
Scientists estimate that forests in North America today store about 10 to 12 percent of the total amount of carbon emitted by sources such as industry and automobiles in the United States and Canada .
"We're living with the consequences of bad management practices from a hundred years ago," said Peter Curtis, a study co-author and a professor of evolution, ecology and organismal biology at Ohio State . "This legacy is actually reducing the potential carbon storage capabilities of today's forests."
Gough, Curtis and their colleagues presented the findings December 8 in San Francisco at the meeting of the American Geophysical Union.
The researchers measured the amount of carbon stored in several forested study plots that were harvested and burned at some poin
Contact: Christopher Gough
Ohio State University