Natural Carbon in Canada
Carbon is stored in a lot of Canada. By that, we mean that there is a lot of Carbon stored all over this Country. Imagine the entirety of an old-growth forest and the years of stored carbon within that forest, with each tree doing its part to store important amounts of carbon. It is estimated that a single tree like a sugar maple or a white pine can store roughly 400 pounds of carbon in a 25-year period. Now, imagine that sugar maple in its oldest, most eloquent form, having played its own massive role in storing carbon for the world. How much carbon do you believe that one tree would store?
Understanding Carbon Storage
Considering that an old-growth sugar maple can grow to be roughly 400 years old, some quick math would conclude that that tree alone could be holding up to roughly 64 hundred pounds of carbon. In an old-growth forest, the density of trees varies but putting it simply: there are a lot of them. In 2021, the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Science published a study estimating that in the average old-growth forest (one that contains trees at an average age of 200 years old), there are 2.4 tonnes, or 5291 pounds of carbon stored in the forests, per hectare, per year. Simply put, old-growth forests hold a massive amount of carbon stores, and Canada holds a large amount of old-growth forests. Apart from trees, carbon is also stored in rocks, sediments, oceans and living organisms.
Why is Carbon Important?
In order to understand the importance of carbon storage, we need to understand what carbon does. To put it simply, we need carbon to live and without it there would be no life. Carbon essentially allows the earth to store the energy it receives from the sun, allowing the earth to trap heat and remain warm enough to live on.
The carbon cycle consists of living organisms like us using natural carbon, then emitting it as another form of carbon (C02), which is then taken up into the atmosphere and cycles back down. Then, through photosynthesis, it is absorbed naturally by things like trees and turned back into natural carbon. After this, the natural carbon is used by living organisms, and once the plants and animals use this carbon decay, fossil fuels are created, and these fuels are burned by everyone from major factories to homeowners using their lawnmowers. Once the fuel has been burned, it emits C02. In the same way that carbon dioxide has the ability to make the earth a pleasant, or technically habitable temperature, it also has the ability to trap too much heat.
Excess carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere essentially creates more heat than is desirable in the atmospheric bubble causing what is called the Greenhouse Effect. When this happens, the entirety of the earth’s balance is thrown off; as weather patterns change and cold regions heat up, we see increasingly worrisome developments that remind us of the dangers of climate change. Being the main component in soil Carbon works in cyclical nature: creating natural carbon storage within the soil while contributing to soil health, thus supporting an ecosystem in which trees and plants can grow healthily to store even more carbon.
Why is Carbon Storage Important?
The carbon stored in rocks, sediment, trees and the ocean is carbon dioxide that is not being released into the atmosphere and in turn, is not accelerating climate change to the point of further potential climate crisis. In the case of the carbon stored in trees, that carbon dioxide is turned back into usable natural carbon that we can use to continue living. So, when thinking of climate change and which ways we are able to reduce our impact, this is something that should be at the forefront of our minds. While it is important to reduce activities like air travel and the use of motor vehicles and factories, it is equally important to be mindful of the delicate balance that exists in our world with carbon storage.
Disrupting the areas and organisms that store these mass amounts of carbon could greatly impact the way we live. Actions such as clear-cutting forests to create materials that are then processed using fossil fuels and used to create structures that emit more c02 are a double negative. Not only are we producing excess carbon dioxide by burning these fuels, but we are also removing the areas that so importantly store this excess carbon.
How Much Carbon is in Canada?
In Canada, it has been found that we store 327 billion tonnes of carbon in our carbon storage areas, which is equal to about 25 years of human greenhouse emissions. If this amount of stored carbon isn’t astonishing to you, I don’t know what is. The fact that this amount of stored carbon in our country alone has the potential to change our lives drastically should be some form of a wake-up call to exactly how important it is that we protect naturally occurring carbon storage.
Is carbon stored in organisms like plants and trees, while soil carbon storage occurs below the earth, accounting for the vast majority of carbon storage. Areas such as peatlands in Quebec and Northern Ontario hold some of the largest deposits of carbon in the country. Thanks to the responsibility and respect of the land that exists within Indigenous cultures and territories, many of the larger carbon storage areas exist in these places. “Large carbon storage areas are often found in Indigenous territories, as a result of millennia of responsible management by Indigenous Peoples”.
Is the process of mapping out all of Canada’s carbon deposits and storage areas. As of last year, the World Wildlife Fund and researchers at McMaster University worked together to create Canada’s first-ever carbon map, showing the amounts of carbon in different areas around the country. This technology is the kind of innovation that allows us to change the course of our future. By having the knowledge of where our country’s carbon is stored, we are able to focus conservation efforts on protecting these insanely important and delicate ecosystems. For example, the Boreal Shield, the Hudson Plain and the Pacific Maritime are some of the regions with the highest density of stored carbon and knowing this is not only incredibly powerful but can help us shape a better future for humankind.
To learn so much more about Canada’s carbon mapping concerning different national regions and to use the interactive maps, visit the WWF page dedicated to this subject.
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