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Research suggests that forests, as a consequence of slow recovery after one of these phenomena, are capable of storing less carbon than had been calculated and this would imply that the advance of climate change may also be faster than previously thought .
According to the study, led by William R.L. Anderegg, from the University of Utah (USA), forests play a very important role in buffering climate change caused by human activities: trees fix a large part of CO2 emissions through photosynthesis and then transform and store part of that synthesized carbon in the form of wood.
"If forests are not so good at retaining carbon dioxide, this means that climate change could accelerate," says the specialist in a press release from the aforementioned university.
To reach these conclusions, the researchers analyzed a global tree growth database (International Tree Ring Data Bank), a database built from growth ring measurements provided by scientists around the world.
Specifically, they studied the recovery of these plants from more than 1,300 non-tropical forests after the severe droughts that occurred in the second half of the 20th century, including that of 2003 in central Europe.
Dendrochronology is the science that studies the growth rings in tree trunks and using dendrochronological techniques, researchers were able to reconstruct growth after droughts. In this way, it was possible to get an idea of how forests convert carbon over time.
Having established the years it took for the trees to recover, the researchers compared the data with calculations from theoretical models of climate and vegetation.
Thus, according to this study, growth was approximately 9% lower than expected during the first year of recovery and 5% lower in the second year. The effects of the drought were more pronounced in families such as pine trees (pines and other conifers) and in semi-arid areas.
According to Anderegg, the impact on CO2 storage capacity "is not insignificant: for more than a century, the carbon storage capacity in semi-arid ecosystems would be reduced by 1.6 gigatons, an amount greater than the total of emissions carbon-related energy produced in the US in one year. "