Storrie fire
High-severity forest effects 10 years after 2000 Storrie Fire in northern Sierra Nevada leave area vulnerable to more fire. (Photo credit: Gary Roller)

As a tree grows, it pulls carbon out of the atmosphere and stores it in its leaves, wood, and roots. But when a tree dies, that stored carbon is released.

Collins: “It becomes a source to emit carbon over time as the killed trees decompose.”

Brandon Collins is with the U.C. Berkeley Center for Fire Research and Outreach. He says the amount of carbon absorbed and stored in forests is currently more than the amount they emit. But that’s starting to change.

There are lots of reasons: deforestation, pests, and storms can all disturb the balance. Another culprit is fire.

As climate change causes temperatures to rise and droughts to become more frequent, large intense wildfires are becoming more common.

Collins: “A concern with regard to some of the fires we’re seeing now is that they’re killing a lot more trees than they ever were historically.”

To make things worse, very intense fires can make it difficult for forests to reseed themselves. So not only has carbon been released into the atmosphere, there will be fewer growing trees to absorb it in the future.

With fewer trees to store carbon, climate change will likely get worse, and that puts forests at even greater risk.

Reporting credit: Rosie Simon/ChavoBart Digital Media.

Topics: Species & Ecosystems, Weather Extremes