New Zealand’s forests and other land areas may be absorbing up to 60% more carbon dioxide than has been calculated, with much of this uptake likely occurring in native forests.
This research, revealed in February, and led by NIWA atmospheric scientists Drs Kay Steinkamp and Sara Mikaloff-Fletcher, indicates that New Zealand’s forests absorb much more carbon dioxide than previously thought, with much of the uptake occurring in the southwest of the South Island.
Carbon dioxide is a primary greenhouse gas and responsible for most of the human-induced warming in the atmosphere. Globally, carbon sinks, such as oceans and forests, have helped mitigate the effects of climate change by absorbing about half the carbon dioxide emitted by human activities over the past few decades.
“The story the atmosphere is telling us is that there’s a big carbon sink somewhere in the South Island, and the areas that seem to be responsible are those largely dominated by indigenous forests,” Dr Mikaloff-Fletcher said. Indigenous forests cover about 6.2 million hectares in New Zealand.
Dr Mikaloff-Fletcher says that was a very surprising result mainly because strong carbon sinks are expected when there is a lot of forest regrowth.
“Carbon uptake this strong is usually associated with peak growth of recently planted forests and tends to slow as forests mature. This amount of uptake from relatively undisturbed forest land is remarkable and may be caused by processes unique to New Zealand or part of a wider global story.”
Image: Lake Brunner, South Westland. [Photo: John Porteous, NIWA]
This article was originally published on NIWA, as part of their Summer Series 2017.