AUBURN – Auburn University has been awarded $1.8 million from the U.S. Department of Defense to help develop a plan for sequestering carbon in longleaf pine forests on military bases – thus reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.
Professor Lisa Samuelson, director of the Center for Longleaf Pine Ecosystems in Auburn’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, will lead the project that includes as collaborators the USDA Forest Service’s Southern Research Station and the University of Florida. The overall grant for the study is $2.4 million.
The project, “Developing Tools for Ecological Forestry and Carbon Management in Longleaf Pine,” is funded by the U.S. Department of Defense through its Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program, or SERDP.
“Longleaf pine forests offer opportunities to sequester carbon and mitigate carbon dioxide emissions because longleaf pine is a long-lived tree species,” Samuelson said, “and the Department of Defense is focusing on restoration and protection of longleaf pine ecosystems.”
Longleaf pine ecosystems are among the most diverse in temperate North America, but only 3 percent to 5 percent of the longleaf forest prior to European settlement now exists, she said.
Many military bases in the South have large tracts in longleaf pine that provide terrain and cover for mission training. The Department of Defense manages longleaf pine forests for those purposes and is working to offset its carbon emissions while managing for threatened and endangered species.
Forests can offset greenhouse gas emissions by sequestering carbon dioxide in tree biomass, understory vegetation, forest floor litter, debris, soils and wood products. This carbon sequestration potential can be increased by sustainable forest management, but it must be balanced with other resource management objectives, according to Samuelson.
The five-year study will be conducted at Fort Benning in Georgia, Fort Polk in Louisiana and Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Researchers expect to begin in March 2011 and to deliver recommendations to the Department of Defense in 2016.
Auburn’s role in the study is to determine the amount of carbon stored in trees and in important ecosystem components such as ground cover and coarse woody debris. The Southern Research Station, under the direction of Kurt Johnsen in Research Triangle Park, N.C., will measure carbon in soils and decomposing tap roots and it will conduct in-depth coarse root measurements using ground-penetrating radar.
The University of Florida will use the data to create biologically based carbon models to inform the Department of Defense, as well as all landowners, about ways to appropriately manage longleaf pine forests for carbon sequestration, biodiversity and forest products. Tim Martin, director of Florida’s Carbon Resources Science Center, is leading that aspect of the project.