Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most abundant human-influenced greenhouse gas. A greenhouse gas is found naturally in the atmosphere— in the upper atmosphere it captures sunlight energy and reflects it back to earth, in turn creating heat. This “blanket” of gas moderates the earth’s temperature. With increasing levels of carbon dioxide, however, research suggests that a thicker blanket will produce global warming. Carbon dioxide is an important molecule for life. All plants that photosynthesize absorb CO2 from the air, combine it with water, nutrients, and the energy from the sun to produce food and oxygen.

The carbon in CO2 is the building block of plant life— in a pound of wood, for example, there is approximately 1/2-pound of carbon! The oxygen in CO2 is necessary for all animals.

Animals breath it, in turn converting it back to carbon dioxide. When the carbon cycle is in equilibrium, the amount of carbon released from storage (e.g. from the burning of fossil fuels or the decay of plant matter, for example) is being stored (e.

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g. in tree wood). The idea is that we are now producing more carbon dioxide than our current plant landscape can capture. So, with all this “extra” CO2, is there anything we can do to help slow global warming? Best way of capturing additional carbon is to take advantage of forested areas as carbon sinks. All the plants in a forest absorb CO2, but trees are especially good at long-term storage. In trees, CO2 is converted to carbon stored in wood.

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Wood holds carbon as long as there is no rotting, and even when wood rots, it releases carbon very slowly. If the wood from a tree is turned into a forest product, then the carbon becomes stored in that product Carbon Sequestration is the process of carbon absorption by trees through photosynthesis and deposition in trunks, branches, roots and leaves.

Forest as Carbon Sink or Source?

Forests can act as either carbon source or sink. A forest is considered to be a carbon source if it releases more carbon than it absorbs. Forest carbon is released when trees burn or when they decay after dying (as a result of old age or of fire, insect attack or other disturbance) (Government of Canada, 2016). A forest is considered to be a carbon sink if it absorbs more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases. Carbon is absorbed from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. It then becomes deposited in forest biomass (that is, trunks, branches, roots and leaves), in dead organic matter (litter and dead wood) and in soils (Government of Canada, 2016).

Options to Raise the Carbon Sink by Forestry

There are several factors we need to take into account for the more release of carbon in the atmosphere, but the climate change will have the severe impact on releasing the carbon in the atmosphere. Control of forest fire and pesticides Forest fire, use of pesticides to outbreak of insects and drought have played important role of carbon release to the atmosphere in case of Canada and now they are really concerned about those issues. How climate change will affect the carbon source/sink balance of Canada’s forests is being closely studied by CFS researchers. It appears that some natural disturbance regimes in the country’s forests are already being influenced by changes in climate. Two examples of this are the increases in the frequency and severity of fire and pest infestations (like the mountain pine beetle in central British Columbia and Alberta). In turn, these events are resulting in forests releasing greater amounts of carbon into the atmosphere (Government of Canada, 2016).


Afforestation has an integral role to restore the carbon in the forest and it is equally important for the well-being of biodiversity and could be one of the most important dealing with increasing global warming too. But at the same time, it has been debated if the coniferous trees have some impact leading to warming of the atmosphere in the case in Australia. The environmental impacts of afforestation are regarded generally as positive, with increases in carbon storage, reduced erosion and improved regulation of flooding, improved water quality and increasing habitat provision to enhance biodiversity. However, the dominant consequence is a trade-off in reduced water supply. A further consequence is the regulation of global warming through feedback responses of forest establishment on surface albedo and the Earth’s energy balance. Predictions are uncertain, but it is likely that large-scale planting of conifer forests could lead to warming of the atmosphere that would offset part of the benefit of removing CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it in biomass and soil (Whitehead, 2011).


Reforestation also act as important carbon sink likewise in Europe. Global deforestation is mainly determined by large-scale clearing of tropical forests, still progressing at some 3 million hectares a year. In contrast, European forests have been cleared over many centuries and are now expanding, having grown by about 11 million hectares since 1990. Regrowing forests on deforested land creates carbon sinks which remove CO₂ from the atmosphere. Wood can reduce carbon emissions by being substituted for materials such as cement or metal and replacing fossil fuels in energy generation. The CO₂ released when wood is burnt can be recouped by planting new trees, making wood a renewable source of energy (Michael Tausz, 2017). Sustainably managed forest In relative numbers, in 2005, North America had an estimated 118 tons of carbon stock per hectare (includes carbon in living biomass, dead wood, litter and soil). Europe had nearly 177 tons of carbon stock per hectare. A trend from 1990 to 2005 shows that many European countries and the U.S. reported significant total carbon stock increases.

The trends show an increase of carbon stock in many countries of the UNECE region, and sustainably managed forests could continue to store even more carbon, thus contributing to climate change mitigation (UNECE, Forest Carbon Sinks and Sequestration, n.d.). Forest management strategies to promote long-term storage of carbon could include mitigation of ecosystem disturbances, such as fire and other hazards creating carbon emissions, afforestation to increase the area of forest land and silvicultural practices which increase carbon sequestration. A significant part of the carbon stock of a forest ecosystem is found in the litter and soil organic matter. Biodiversity in soil as well as above ground should thus be considered (T-B. LARSSON et all, 2007). We prefer forests to be carbon sinks, because too much CO2 in the atmosphere is bad for air quality and human health. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the lower levels of the atmosphere and contributes to climate change’s trend of globally increasing temperatures.

CO2 is not just released by cellular respiration: The main source of CO2 emission is the combustion of fossil fuels by industry and transport. A lot of the carbon produced by these activities is just being introduced into the atmosphere for the first time, even though it will remain cycling through it forever. In 2007 alone, 8.5 billion tons of carbon were added to the carbon cycle by oil, coal, and gas combustion, but before then, it was all being stored underground, far away from the atmosphere where it now exists (Friedel, 2017).

Planting trees and conserving forests is an important step towards reducing our carbon footprint, but it won’t do the job on its own. Carbon release from forests can occur at any time if triggered by deforestation, tree decay, forest fires or decomposition of other organic matter. Keeping in mind that carbon will not be stored in trees forever and that the overall carbon levels will keep increasing if emissions do, it’s crucial that we do our job of reducing our carbon emissions and our dependence on fossil fuels in addition to keeping our forest carbon sinks healthy and safe, so that they can do their job too.

Cite this page

Role of Forest in Carbon Cycle. (2021, May 07). Retrieved from

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