Nav: Home

South African forests show pathways to a sustainable future

June 19, 2019

Native forests make up 1percent of the landscape in South Africa but could play a key role in reducing atmospheric carbon and identifying sustainable development practices that can be used globally to counter climate change, according to a Penn State researcher.

"As we think about pathways for reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, one of the available approaches is to use the natural world as a sponge," said Erica Smithwick, professor of geography and director of the Center for Landscape Dynamics at Penn State.

The challenge, according to Smithwick, is to use forests to store carbon while also meeting local community needs. As trees grow, they absorb and store carbon through photosynthesis. Carbon makes up about half of a tree's mass, but amounts vary by species. To find its carbon stock, scientists use equations based on the tree's diameter and other variables, like height and wood density, rather than cutting down and weighing each species.

In 2011, Smithwick tagged and measured trees in the Dwesa-Cwebe nature reserve in the Eastern Cape Province with help from students in Penn State's Parks and People study abroad program. She remeasured the trees five years later while in South Africa on a Core Fulbright U.S. Scholarship and analyzed the forests' carbon content. The results of the study, one of the first to quantify carbon content in Africa, appear in a recent issue of the journal Carbon Management.

Smithwick found that the coastal, indigenous forests store a moderate to large amount of carbon. They are also a biodiversity hotspot and thus important for conservation. The local communities depend on the forests for resources such as medicinal plants, fuelwood and timber, as well as their spiritual needs, Smithwick added.

"As we move toward the sustainable development of these places, we need to think about how the local communities are able to value and work with these characteristics of the forests," said Smithwick, who also holds an appointment in Penn State's Earth and Environmental Systems Institute. "Understanding what is an optimal level of productivity extraction from the natural system so we're not degrading the system is an area of interest. We're trying to figure out what the balance between forest productivity and resource extraction is."

Smithwick noted that the large amount of forest productivity, or how quickly the forests grow, and small amount of human use of forest resources suggest that humans are not negatively influencing the Dwesa-Cwebe forests. She added that access to the nature reserve is limited, and other reserves see more resource extraction.

The South African government manages Dwesa-Cwebe but plans eventually to hand over management of the park to the surrounding local communities. Smithwick said that conservation of the area must integrate human interactions and values into a development model that recognizes how humans can benefit a forest system if managed in a sustainable way.

"We have to recognize the importance of these natural forests and their biodiversity and carbon values, but we also have to situate that in a sustainable development challenge," said Smithwick, who is also director of the Huck Institutes of Life Sciences Ecology Institute and associate director of the Institutes of Energy and the Environment. "The forest in South Africa is a good case study for how we start to think about balancing these considerations. The lessons learned from this hopefully can resonate to how we think about these challenges in other parts of the world."
-end-
The Penn State College of Earth and Mineral Sciences George H. Deike Jr. Grant, the J. William Fulbright Research/Teaching Award, and the National Science Foundation supported this project.

Penn State

Related Carbon Articles:

Can wood construction transform cities from carbon source to carbon vault?
A new study by researchers and architects at Yale and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research predicts that a transition to timber-based wood products in the construction of new housing, buildings, and infrastructure would not only offset enormous amounts of carbon emissions related to concrete and steel production -- it could turn the world's cities into a vast carbon sink.
Investigation of oceanic 'black carbon' uncovers mystery in global carbon cycle
An unexpected finding published today in Nature Communications challenges a long-held assumption about the origin of oceanic black coal, and introduces a tantalizing new mystery: If oceanic black carbon is significantly different from the black carbon found in rivers, where did it come from?
First fully rechargeable carbon dioxide battery with carbon neutrality
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago are the first to show that lithium-carbon dioxide batteries can be designed to operate in a fully rechargeable manner, and they have successfully tested a lithium-carbon dioxide battery prototype running up to 500 consecutive cycles of charge/recharge processes.
How and when was carbon distributed in the Earth?
A magma ocean existing during the core formation is thought to have been highly depleted in carbon due to its high-siderophile (iron loving) behavior.
New route to carbon-neutral fuels from carbon dioxide discovered by Stanford-DTU team
A new way to convert carbon dioxide into the building block for sustainable liquid fuels was very efficient in tests and did not have the reaction that destroys the conventional device.
How much carbon the land can stomach with more carbon dioxide in the air
Researchers from 28 institutions in nine countries succeeded in quantifying carbon dioxide fertilization for the past five decades, using simulations from 12 terrestrial ecosystem models and observations from seven field carbon dioxide enrichment experiments.
'Charismatic carbon'
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), addressing carbon emissions from our food sector is absolutely essential to combatting climate change.
Extreme wildfires threaten to turn boreal forests from carbon sinks to carbon sources
A research team investigated the impact of extreme fires on previously intact carbon stores by studying the soil and vegetation of the boreal forest and how they changed after a record-setting fire season in the Northwest Territories in 2014.
Can we still have fun if the UK goes carbon neutral?
Will Britain going carbon neutral mean no more fun? Experts from the University of Surrey have urged local policy makers to put in place infrastructure that will enable people to enjoy recreation and leisure while keeping their carbon footprint down.
Could there be life without carbon? (video)
One element is the backbone of all forms of life we've ever discovered on Earth: carbon.
More Carbon News and Carbon Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Mindset
In the past few months, human beings have come together to fight a global threat. This hour, TED speakers explore how our response can be the catalyst to fight another global crisis: climate change. Guests include political strategist Tom Rivett-Carnac, diplomat Christiana Figueres, climate justice activist Xiye Bastida, and writer, illustrator, and artist Oliver Jeffers.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Speedy Beet
There are few musical moments more well-worn than the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. But in this short, we find out that Beethoven might have made a last-ditch effort to keep his music from ever feeling familiar, to keep pushing his listeners to a kind of psychological limit. Big thanks to our Brooklyn Philharmonic musicians: Deborah Buck and Suzy Perelman on violin, Arash Amini on cello, and Ah Ling Neu on viola. And check out The First Four Notes, Matthew Guerrieri's book on Beethoven's Fifth. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.