Source: AGU Advances

Forests are a powerful natural tool for climate change mitigation, often acting as massive carbon sinks to counteract greenhouse gas emissions while also protecting biodiversity. However, because of deforestation and global warming, many forests have been ravaged by wildfires or have more trees dead than alive—and have now flipped from carbon sinks to carbon sources. A new study by Law et al. sought to determine which U.S. national forests have the highest potential to act as carbon sinks and preserve biodiversity if adequately protected.

To do this, the team used remote sensing and geospatial modeling data to compile information about forest landscape integrity (or low degradation by humans), carbon stocks, wildlife habitats, and fire activity. The researchers also included climate projections from Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 6 in their analysis.

The Tongass and Chugach National Forests in Alaska scored highest on measures of wildlife habitat extent and landscape integrity. The two also scored highly on total tree carbon stock, particularly the Tongass, which alone stores more than 10% of all tree carbon stocks that occur on national forest land. Combined, the two forests store more than a third of carbon stocks in national forests with high landscape integrity. They also have a high number of apex predators, including bald eagles, brown bears, and gray wolves, indicating a healthy and intact ecosystem. Finally, the Tongass and Chugach also scored low on risk of wildfire because they are colder and wetter than many other forests in the United States.

The authors concluded that these combined traits make the Tongass and Chugach forests particularly high priority for protection. The forests are large and intact, as increasingly few forests are, and they are naturally buffered against future disturbance from fire and climate change if their integrity is preserved. (AGU Advances,, 2023)

—Rachel Fritts (@rachel_fritts), Science Writer

Citation: Fritts, R. (2023), To meet climate goals, protect the Tongass and Chugach forests, Eos, 104, Published on 22 November 2023.
Text © 2023. AGU. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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