Study: Forests in the Midwest lost 8,000 years of stored carbon in last 150 years

Representational imageSebastian Unrau

For more than 8,000 years, forests in the upper Midwest pulled almost a billion tons of carbon out of the atmosphere, storing the greenhouse gas in trees. The gains over the last 8000 years, which were not captured on previous simulation models, were wiped out in the span of just 150 years, according to a new study published in the journal Science by researchers at the University of Notre Dame and collaborators.

In much of the upper Midwest region, now in the states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the northern edges of Illinois and Indiana. forests had become dominated by long-lived species that could store a lot of carbon as biomass after the retreat of the massive Laurentide ice sheet more than 10,000 years ago. American beech and eastern hemlock dominated much of these forests.

Jason McLachlan, associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Notre Dame, said:

In previous studies, that means everything humans have done since the European colonization of the Upper Midwest, what impact modern people have on forests, was based on the idea that there was no impact before them. Our study does show that there can be a surprisingly large store of carbon in forests that went unnoticed.

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