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Humans Are Producing Too Much Carbon Dioxide for Forests to Absorb

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Steam and exhaust rise from different companies on a cold winter day on January 6th, 2017, in Oberhausen, Germany.

Forests around the world are absorbing more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but they still can’t keep up with the sheer volume of the global-warming gas being emitted through human activity, a new study has found.

“Intact forests are playing a large role in absorbing the CO2 we’re emitting,” says Benjamin Gaubert, the lead author of the study and a scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research. “This means that global forest are helping to mitigate climate change or at least helping to mitigate the impacts of carbon emissions in the atmosphere.”

The study, published in the journal Biogeosciences, suggests forest growth is becoming more robust as atmospheric carbon concentrations increase, and therefore taking more CO2 out of the air. Nevertheless, the concentration of heat-trapping carbon in the atmosphere continues to intensify as the forests can only capture a fraction of total human-caused emissions, which in 2018 totaled 37.1 billion tonnes.

The study looked at models of atmospheric inversion from research institutions across the world. It combined these with surface observations to estimate carbon fluctuations over northern and southern forests and verified using aircraft observations. The study relied on supercomputers to run simulations of the climate models.

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