The storage of carbon in forested landscapes, in the form of plant and soil biomass, is a crucial component of climate change mitigation. Carbon pulled from the atmosphere by growing plants, then held in forest ecosystems, is not free contribute to the warming effects of atmospheric carbon dioxide, the most important greenhouse gas. Appalachian forests provide this service in great abundance, and net carbon storage has increased over recent decades in most Appalachian regions as forests have matured and increased in landscape extent.
However, the rate of this increase is declining as the dynamics of these processes change with changing land use patterns. As older forests continue to age, the rate of new carbon sequestration naturally slows, but these forests continue to store massive amounts of carbon. Urbanization and surface mining, in different Appalachian regions, are major factors driving recent patterns of forest loss. Future economic and land use scenarios suggest that in coming decades, forest losses from urbanization and surface mining are likely to outstrip regional gains from forest growth, at which point some major Appalachian regions could become carbon sources rather than sinks. Such losses may be mitigated by changes in urban development policy and planning, significant new forest restoration efforts on mined sites, changing energy markets and policy, and timber markets that enhance the value of forest lands.
Risk factors: Urbanization, surface mining, climate change
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