Carbon stock in rainforests: a buried potential

Integrating local communities in rainforest carbon quantification

Integrating local communities in rainforest carbon quantification

Food security, an important part of human well being, is a major concern for most if not all developing country. Madagascar’s rainforests are constantly and severely threatened by local communities which have, most of time, no other choice than using natural resources for a living.

« Carbon storage » as an ecosystemical service is a non destructive way to valorize the forests. However defining the valuable carbon stock is tricky and even the scientific community must face strong difficulties to give a precise accounting of the carbon stock. Carbon is stored in different pools and the most detailed and studied one is the most apparent: the above ground biomass. However, carbon is also stored in roots and in soil, also called “below ground carbon”, which are both a huge stock.

The project

Just like an iceberg, the biggest part of the carbon stock is below the surface. But unlike an iceberg we cannot see easily what is below the ground surface and we cannot tell just by sight which quantity of carbon is in that forest soil. The purpose of the project is to give a direct and precise assessment of the carbon above and below the ground. By doing this, our workpackage which is a part of the p4ges project funded by ESPA program, can give to the decision makers of the country the current best carbon accounting of the rainforest corridor « Ankeniheny Zahamena » and contribute to poverty alleviation.

How do we proceed?

For aboveground, to determine the carbon stock of the forest we have measured the carbon content of the trees. And because there are millions of trees in the rainforests we cannot measure all of them one by one. That is why it is important to select some representative area. In this area, we determined the specific composition of the forest (which species do we find?) and the carbon content. For this, saplings are collected, weighed and sampled in a circle of 2 m radius. For big trees, their diameters and their heights are recorded to calculate the above ground carbon. And to have more precised data, we have selected some dominant species, weighted and sampled their trunks, leaves and branches. We then apply the obtained model to the entire forest. This can be done because the forests are arrangements and repetition of some species. In other terms, if there are a million trees in a forest, we won’t have a million different tree species but a repetition of a pattern of a several species.

That was for the easy part, the above ground carbon.

For the root-carbon, the difficult one, a direct measurement had to be done. For this, we first need to cut the tree (some trees to serve the cause of the science) because we must free all the roots from the ground by excavation, to weight, measure and sample them.

Because some trees have hundreds of root ramifications and some ramifications can be as long as 15 meters, root-carbon quantification is a very massive and time consuming work. But with our project, a reliable prediction model of the root carbon, taking account the shoot parameters (a visible part of the trees) can be developed. The obtained data can be used to predict on the future the root-carbon without such a destructive work. Thus, we don’t have to cut more trees than necessary. We then use the predetermined composition to extrapolate accurately the carbon content of the roots.

For the soil carbon, soil samples were collected on pits at different depths (up to 100cm) with cylinder in order to measure soil bulk density. Then, soils were analyzed for soil organic content (via the Walkley and Black and Mid Infra Red Spectroscopy), humidity and density in the laboratory.

Why is it important?

There is a considerable amount of carbon inside the tropical rainforests like the Ankeniheny-Zahamena corridor. Our project aimed to quantify the entire potential of the forest using direct and indirect measurement methods on the visible and buried part of the forest.

Global and national scale studies on carbon quantification give only a few references on root carbon stock. The existing studies relate to artificial forests or other non-forest land uses. Our project can help to compensate the lack of knowledge on carbon quantification in the root compartment which contains a large amount of carbon. This will allow consideration of this compartment in carbon accounting and will have an important impact on future REDD project.

With the equipment at our disposal and the amount of work required to obtain precised data, we are working hard to produce results that meet scientific requirements to provide to decision makers reliable and precised elements.

In our project, we work with various actors from the local community through various scientists, to the decision-maker, both at national and international level. We can say for example the preparation of Madagascar to the COP21 summit, a major event on the climate change topic, via the organization of a side event supported by the international community.

Carbon can be stored. It is a way to reduce the deforestation’s greenhouse gas emissions and by the way help people to find some revenues without destroying the rainforests. This project is the first step to get closer to this objective.

Blogpost and picture submitted by Mieja Razafindrakoto (Laboratoires des RadioIsotopes, Madagascar) – mieja.razafindrakoto(at)gmail.com
Picture courtesy Carbon team of the p4ges project

The content, structure and grammar is at the discretion of the author only.


This post is published as entry #40 of our #Forests2015 blog competition. It is submitted in the “Open” category.

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21 thoughts on “Carbon stock in rainforests: a buried potential

  1. La quantification du carbone dans la partie souterraine (racinaire) des forêts augmente la valeur que possède cet écosystème surtout dans le cadre du marché du carbone. Aussi, vous contribuez à la mise en valeur de cette ressource et cela peut favoriser le développement des initiatives de conservation. C’est intéressant, bonne continuation!!

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  2. forests are the main ressource for a lot of people. but degrading forests is mainly for above ground biomass ressources, used for fire wood and construction wood. roots are harder to valorize. but,does slash and burn agriculture leaves the roots in place, thus raising the soil carbon stock?

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  3. Thanks for sharing your great initiative to move forward in below-ground carbon assessment in Madagascar. Hope your research will be fruitful in supporting decision makers.

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  4. It is such kind of initiative that we just need today to cope with climate change, land degradation and low production. I concur with the previous comment in congratulating as well the team for this very good job and this skilful approach.

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  5. Great job and congratulations to all of the team. i hope that this project can change the vision of everyone on the importance of forests and the environnement. “Change” began to all of us.

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  6. Good article. Thank you. Wishing that your project’s goal will be reached and your results will be shared to all.

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  7. For sure, all we shera herein are for an importance for our natural resources and there is also a lot to be done in terms of advocacy so that meny countries could speak for Natural Resources. A part from climate change framework, there are food securing and biodiversity protection that are all involved in carbon storing and also in preserving forests

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  8. Carbon storage in forest is very important in the climate change context. Among these carbon pools, root C stock quantification is a big challenge for tropical rainforest condition. These results will be used as baseline information for a tropical country as Madagascar.

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  9. Good job team! I have never thought that carbon can be stored.
    This is an excellent project to protect and preserve humanity’s future.
    Wish you all the success you deserve on this!

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  10. Thanks to the team for this very interesting article. People have to realize how important it is to think and talk about the planet’s future and all the environmental issues that lay ahead of us. Your project is one big step to that realization and I really admire the way you wish to include local population to this project. Thanks for introducing us to the notion of Carbon Storage, we will spread the word. Keep up the good work, you did a great job.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I have acquired useful knowledge from this post, such as classification of above ground carbon, root carbon and soil carbon. This also fascinates my further interest in knowing if there has a different weight formula for each type of carbon in our carbon trading system, the “cost” of our daily activity on each type of carbon etc. Thanks for the work

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    • Thanks for your comment!yes, that is one of our challenge, to know and reduce better the cost of such study per kind of ecosystem in Madagascar, and it’ll be great also if we could compare into other ecosystem so that we can provide ideas of cost for carbon storage

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  12. Thank you team for the great initiative! Not only have you made infinite efforts to come up with this valuable project but also you have provided us with knowledge about the carbon storage process. Kudos and all the best on your way ahead!

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  13. Undoubtedly a very visionnary and much much needed project especially these days with our planet’s slow degradation. The idea of integrating local communities makes it even more important and definitely viable. Great job to the team!

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  14. Such initiatives join all efforts that scientist make for a better understanding of tropical rainforest ecosystem services; all this for the challenge of a better management of these ecosystems for human welbeing (in the Climate change and food securing framework). the projecta nd WP did a good job as they consider different levels (local community up to regional) at different scales and also try to ensure the science policy interface

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  15. Sobre el carbono enterrado en el suelo es un gran problema ambiental, pues el daño viene de varios siglos por la forma primitiva que extraen los arboles comerciales, en la amazonia Peruana, tenemos más de 5000 especies “maderables” y solo se explotan menos de 20 especies que son las especies comerciales, aproximadamente por cada árbol que extraen deforestan 11.23 árboles más, lo mas triste es que del árbol comercial lo valioso es el fuste del árbol que representa en promedio el 60% del árbol, es decir los madereros por cada 100 Kg. de fuste (madera rolliza), dejan en el bosque 1340 Kg que lo llamamos BIOMASA DESFORESTADA Y DESAPROVECHADA, (BDD) QUE POR LA ACTIVIDAD NATURAL Y ESPONTANEA SON DEGRADADOS Y SE QUEDAN EN EL BOSQUE 500 kG. DE carbono, ES DECIR LA DESCARGA DE CARBONO/Ha pasa las 55 TM. podemos DEMOSTRAR QUE EL CARBONO EN ESAS CONDIC0INES ES ALTAMENTE TÓXICO PARA LOS SUELOS SUPERFICIALES EN MAYOR PROPORSION QUE EL CARBONO QUE ES CONDUCIDO SUBTERRANEAMENTE ARRASTRADO POR LAS ESCORRENTÍAS DEL SUBSUELO. ahora, el efecto contaminante del carbono se entiende pues eleva la relación C/N QUE DEBE TENER UN SUELO Y OSCILA ESTA RELACIÓN ENTRE 10 A 14; CON TREMENDA DESCARGA DE CARBONO, ESTA RELACIÓN SE DISPARA A MAS DE 100000 Y EL SUELO SE CONVIERTE EN TIERRA, RAZÓN POR LO QUE ESTAS TIERRAS SON IDENTIFICADAS COMO TIERRAS DE ÚLTIMO USO PUES SIRVEN PARA CULTIVAR COSECHAR NO MAS DE 4 CAMPAÑAS, PUES CADA AÑO BAJA EL RENDIMIENTO EN LA COSECHA QUE OBLIGAN A MIGRAR A OTRAS TIERRAS CON BOSQUE SILVESTRE DE AHI QUE NUESTRA AGRICULTURA EN LA AMAZONIA SE CARACTERIZA POR SER DE SUBSISTENCIA Y MIGRATORIA.. eN NUESTRA UNIVERSIDAD VENIMOS TRABANDO EN ESTOS TEMAS PUES ESTAMOS CON LA ESCUELA DE iNGENIERIA AMBIENTAL Y LO COMENTADO ESTA EN NUESTRA INVESTIGACIÓN DE AÑO SABÁTICO, BUENO EL PROBLEMA YA ESTA DADO, ESPERAMOS TENER NUEVOS COMENTARIOS SOBRE TEMAS AMBIENTALES Y SOBRE TODO DE INGENIERÍA AMBIENTAL QUE ES NUESTRO QUE HACER COTIDIANO.

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    • In Madagascar we also face the problem of itinerant agriculture which is the main cause of deforestation. Actually, the land use change affects the carbon stock under and above the ground. But contrary to what is seen in Amazonia, the land use change in Madagascar is generally characterized by the liberation of the carbon in the atmosphere because of slash-and-burn

      Liked by 2 people

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