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When governments or regulators get involved in negotiations about greenhouse gas emissions or carbon trading, they rely on scientifically robust, verifiable measurements of the value and volume of carbon produced or sequestered by human activities.
There are three ways in which carbon levels are accounted for in forestry:
The best method to use depends mainly on the objectives of the assessment, its geographical scale and the resources available to carry out the evaluation. The most robust and cost-effective carbon stock accounts will typically combine all three approaches alongside remote sensing technology (satellite imagery and aerial photography).
The simplest method of assessment looks at how carbon stocks have changed between two points in time. Conventional forest mensuration methods estimate timber volumes, which then convert to dry weight – and hence carbon – using reference tables.
Problems associated with carbon stock accounting:
An inventory-based approach, particularly if used to assess carbon stocks or sequestration in woody biomass only, can be used to cover large land areas and a variety of species and site conditions.
Several carbon accounting models are applicable to the UK. They use theoretical and empirically derived models of carbon flows through the forestry value chain.
Flux-based carbon accounting directly measures the flow of carbon into and out of the forest. State-of-the-art sensors using a technique called eddy correlation to continuously monitor carbon exchange between all the carbon pools in a forest ecosystem and the atmosphere.
Forest Research uses this technique to measure carbon exchange in lowland oak woodland at the Straits Flux Station.
Benefits and drawbacks:
Flux-based calculations are ideal for delivering information on short-term variations in the magnitude of the carbon sink and in quantifying net carbon exchange in forest systems where the individual carbon pools are difficult to measure. Carbon flux studies also provide an essential validation for inventory methods across different forestry systems.
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