Does burning wood release all of the carbon a tree has captured in its lifetime? Does a dead decomposing tree do the same?


Anytime carbon capture comes up, the conversation devolves into commenters saying the entire idea is dumb and trees already exist. I’d like to know more about the full life cycle of a tree and if the carbon it captures is permanent.

In: 199

The same amount is released in both situations. Or more exactly close to the same amount is resed because some of the carbon in the decomposing tree will still be in alive animals and microorganisms.

If you cut down the tree and store it in a way so it does not decay the carbon will not be released. Storage in this case can be in the wall of a building. Put trees in an oxygen-free environment, like covered with mud, they can in principle remain there forever. Coal is carbon from trees stored that way.

If you start with an area with no trees and plant trees the trees will contain lots of carbon when they are alive. Trees can live for hundreds of years and you can have new trees that grow and replace the one that dies, So a forest can bind a huge amount of carbon for its existence.

So planting a new forest will have an initial effect on CO2 level in the atmosphere and reduce the amount or more exactly today decrease the rate CO2 increase. This is positive for us and forest have more good environmental effects than just CO2 sequestration

It depends. Carbon exchanges look at these factors. If a tree has a long, healthy life its a net reduction in carbon emissions. Simply planting a tree misses the point that your raising though, that, in addition to the minuses, trees have a carbon addition at death. This the carbon exchange consumer should be savvy.

Short answer: yes to both. The Main Difference between These two is the time IT Takes to Release the Carbon and where it’s released. Burning basically releases all the Carbon instantly into the athmosphere while decay does so over a Long Period of time and is still bound in large amounts into the ground instead the athmosphere

Yep. There’s no magic. When a plant grows it takes in carbon from the air and uses it as a building material. The plant is largely made of carbon. As long as the plant remains the carbon is bound there. It doesn’t vanish or teleport away it’s just part of the plant. So when the plant dissolves or burns, all the carbon it’s made up of is released.

That said, carbon capture by planting more trees and plants *does* work. It just depends on us keeping the forests around, but… that’s kind of the point *anyway*. It’s not like the individual tree needs to live forever. When it dies a new tree can grow in its place, so it still works in the long term. As long as the forest is there, it binds a bunch of carbon.

But this is true for any form of carbon capture. The carbon is still there. There’s no point in timer when we can say “ok, that’s all the carbon vanished. Now we no longer have to worry about that!”

If we pump it down into old oil wells the carbon is still there and we have to worry *forever* about whether it’ll leak out. If we bind it in trees and greenery we have to *keep* the planet green (oh, the horror). No matter what we do, we have to *keep* doing it.

Not all the carbon a tree captures goes into its wood. A lot of it ends up making stuff like leaves and fruits and stuff like that.

What you do with those matters.

Generally it makes less sense to look at individual tress that live and die over a large enough time-span but at the woods and forests they make up.

You compared how much carbon is contained in a completely empty patch of land with a meadow or a forest.

Forests it turns out are not the best landscape to capture carbon.

Peatbogs are better than forests by most metrics. They often contain tons of organic material that due to the lack of oxygen in them hasn’t decayed for millennia.

Still turning cattle grazing land (back) into forests will end up with a net increase in sequestered carbon even if individual carbon atoms cycle through the trees as they get absorbed and released again.

Natural carbon capture by forests and other landscapes also works a whole lot better than anything we can do with technology as trees are comparatively low maintenance and forests have been proven to be easily able to scale up to enormous sizes. They can even make more of themselves without human help.