Changes in terrestrial carbon storage in the United States. 1: The roles of agriculture and forestry
Document Type: Journal Article
Author(s): Richard A. Houghton; J. L. Hackler
Publication Year: 2000

Cataloging Information

  • agriculture
  • air quality
  • C - carbon
  • carbon accumulation
  • carbon flux
  • chaparral
  • coniferous forests
  • croplands
  • ecosystem dynamics
  • fire exclusion
  • fire suppression
  • forest management
  • grasslands
  • land use
  • logging
  • second growth forests
  • slash
  • soil nutrients
  • soil organic matter
  • soils
  • tillage
  • tundra
  • vegetation
  • wildfires
  • wood
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: June 1, 2018
FRAMES Record Number: 4322
Tall Timbers Record Number: 20358
TTRS Location Status: In-file
TTRS Call Number: Fire File
TTRS Abstract Status: Okay, Fair use, Reproduced by permission

This bibliographic record was either created or modified by the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy and is provided without charge to promote research and education in Fire Ecology. The E.V. Komarek Fire Ecology Database is the intellectual property of the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.


Changes in the areas of croplands and pastures, and rates of wood harvest in 7 regions of the USA, including Alaska, were derived from historical statistics for the period 1700-1990. These rates of land-use change were used in a cohort model, together with equations defining the changes in live vegetation, slash, wood products and soil that follow a change in land use, to calculate the annual flux of carbon to the atmosphere from changes in land use. The calculated flux increased from less than 10 Tg C/yr in 1700 to a maximum of about 400 Tg C/yr around 1880, and then decreased to approximately zero by 1950. The total flux for the 290-year period was a release of 32.6 Pg C. The area of forests and woodlands declined by 42% (160x106 ha), releasing 29 Pg C, or 90% of the total flux. Cultivation of soils accounted for about 25% of the carbon loss. Between 1950 and 1990 the annual flux of carbon was approximately zero, although eastern forests were accumulating carbon. When the effects of fire and fire exclusion (reported in the following paper by Houghton, Hackler & Lawrence, K. T., pp. 145-170) were added to this analysis of land-use change, the uptake of carbon calculated for forests was similar in magnitude to the uptake measured in forest inventories, suggesting that past harvests account for a significant fraction of the observed carbon sink in forests. Changes in the management of croplands between 1965 and 1990 may have led to an additional accumulation of carbon, not included in the 32.6 Pg C release, but even with this additional non-forest sink, the calculated accumulation of carbon in the USA was an order of magnitude smaller than the North American carbon sink inferred recently from atmospheric data and models.

Online Link(s):
Houghton, Richard A.; Hackler, J.L. 2000. Changes in terrestrial carbon storage in the United States. 1: The roles of agriculture and forestry. Global Ecology and Biogeography 9(2):125-144.