Words by Smiley Team
Picture the trees on the road on a busy intersection, the tiny neighborhood park, the large groups of trees near a highway. Those are called urban forests, and often they go under the radar but a new Boston study suggests that they may have an understated impact on carbon capture in cities.
“Forests actually store more carbon dioxide than they release, which is great news for us,” says the study. “About 30 percent of carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels are taken in by forests, an effect called the terrestrial carbon sink.”
These sections of forest, often permeating throughout and at the edges of large cities and settlements are believed to be outweighing their carbon impact even if they’re covered with trash.
“The discussion about deforestation really focuses on what's lost: the forest that's lost, the habitat that's lost. But we haven't focused enough energy on what's left behind,” Lucy Hutyra told WBUR. Hutyra is a professor of earth and environment at Boston University and senior author on the two studies. “These forests, even these crummy little trash-filled urban forests with few trees, do a lot for society.”
Hutyra said in the study that we’re not feeling the most drastic effects of climate change yet because of these urban forests and the aforementioned terrestrial climate sink.
Ironically, many of these urban forests are being cut down to put up solar farms. The state Department of Energy Resources estimates that approximately 2,500 acres of trees, equal to the size of 50 Boston Commons, have been cut down to put up solar panels in the last two decades.
“We think about forests as big landscapes, but really they are chopped up into all these little segments because of the human world,” says Hutyra in the study.
When thinking of these trees on the outskirts it was often believed that the ones closest to the cities and establishments grew at the same rate as trees deeper into forests. Now Hutyra and her colleagues have uncovered that the “edge trees” grow at nearly twice the rate of the interior trees.
The study states that these trees don’t have as much competition for sunlight, and as a result, grow much larger, and the larger a tree is the more carbon it takes in.
As much of the world begins to adapt to climate change these types of studies will aid in how we act.
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