Can Global Warming Increase a Tree’s Carbon Storage Capacity?

When global warming is mentioned, we often hear about the negative effects it can have on the environment as opposed to what we can do to respond to it. However, a recent study led by Jerry Melillo of the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) showed for the first time that warmer temperatures can stimulate the amount of carbon stored in trees as woody tissue.

The Harvard Forest in Massachusetts.

According to reports from Science Daily, the study conducted at Harvard Forest in Massachusetts took place over the course of seven years, in which about one-quarter of an acre of the forest was artificially warmed to about 9°F above the normal temperature to simulate the expected temperature change by the end of the century. The study revealed that warmer climates do cause organic matter in the soil to decompose rapidly, which in turn raises the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, as other studies have also shown.

However, as previously mentioned, it also showed the gain of carbon stored as woody tissues in trees – a first in field experiments. Science Daily revealed that this gain partially offsets the carbon loss from the soil to the atmosphere and the carbon gain in trees is due to greater amounts of nitrogen made available to the trees through the warmer soil.

While global warming is still a serious issue and shouldn’t be taken lightly, it’s neat to see that it may not be as harmful on our trees as we could have thought.

Photo credit: David R. Foster via

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