The CASC Senior Advisor on Biodiversity and Climate Change, Stephen Jackson, and co-authors looked at thousands of years of fossil pollen data to understand how past changes in the ability of Midwestern forests to store carbon may help predict how they will adapt to future changes in climate.
Looking to the Past to Predict the Future: Midwest Forests in a Changing Climate
Forests are responsible for capturing and storing large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere. When these forests are lost due to agricultural practices or urbanization, this carbon is released back into the atmosphere, contributing to a changing climate. To gain a better understanding of how carbon storage in Midwestern forests has changed over time, CASC Senior Advisor on Biodiversity and Climate Change, Stephen Jackson, and co-authors used a new, highly detailed forest-simulation model based on thousands of years of fossil pollen data.
The researchers found that despite significant vegetation loss that occurred 10,000 to 8,500 years ago, during a period of global warming right after the end of the last ice age, there was subsequently a period of increased carbon storage by forests. Previous studies assumed that carbon storage had remained steady in this region, but this research suggests that as glaciers from the last ice age began to melt, the trees began to flourish and continuously absorb more carbon than previously estimated. These findings should allow for more accurate carbon storage predictions under continued climate and land use change.