Maintenance of forest contribution to global carbon cycles
Forests are an important component in the global carbon cycle and provide
both a source and sink for this basic element on which all life depends.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most prevalent greenhouse gas in
the world today and is the leading contributor to the increasing problem
of global warming. Forests are a source of carbon by releasing this gas
into the atmosphere during decomposition and wild fires. They also act
as an important sink by locking up carbon into biomass through
photosynthesis, and later contributing it to soils as organic matter.
Approximately a seventh of total atmospheric carbon dioxide is passed
into vegetation annually.
Although the carbon cycle is a natural phenomenon, humans
can dramatically affect its balance by altering the natural forest processes
that regulate carbon storage and emission. For example, the way in which
timber is processed and used plays an important role. By burning wood for
residential and commercial use, carbon emission rates are increased,
particularly if forests are not replaced. Alternatively, if forests are
properly managed, and if the timber is used for long-term products, such
as buildings, forest harvesting could result in a net reduction of
atmospheric carbon. Natural disturbances such as insects, diseases, storms
and wildfires can also cause large shifts in the global carbon cycle and
must be taken into account. The carbon cycle is complex and very difficult
to monitor; a better understanding is necessary to manage forests in a way
that supports reducing the increase of CO2 levels in the