Carbon sequestration potential by afforestation of marginal agricultural land in the Midwestern U.S.

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107 Scopus citations


Carbon sequestration has been well recognized as a viable option to slow the rise in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentration. The main goals of this study were to assess the carbon sequestration potential (CSP) by afforestation of marginal agricultural land (MagLand) and to identify hotspots for potential afforestation activities in the U.S. Midwest region (Michigan (MI), Indiana (IN), Ohio, Kentucky (KY), West Virginia, Pennsylvania (PA) and Maryland (MD)). The 1992 USGS National Land Cover Dataset and the State Soil Geographic (STATSGO) database were used to determine MagLand. Two forest types (coniferous and deciduous) and two management practices (short-rotation versus permanent forest) were combined to form four afforestation scenarios. Simulation models were employed to predict changes in four carbon pools: aboveground biomass, roots, forest floor, and soil organic carbon (SOC). A scenario-generating tool was developed to detect the hotspots. We estimated that there was a total of 6.5 million hectares (Mha) MagLand available in the U.S. Midwest region, which accounts for approximately 24% of the regional total agricultural land. The CSP capacity was predicted to be 508-540 Tg C (1 Tg = 1012 g) over 20 years and 1018-1080 Tg C over 50 years. The results indicate that afforestation of MagLand could offset 6-8% of current CO2 emissions by combustion of fossil fuel in the region. This analysis showed only slight differences in carbon sequestration between forest types or between short-rotation and permanent forest scenarios. Note that this calculation assumed that all suitable MagLand in the U.S. Midwest region was converted to forest and that "best carbon management" was adopted. The actual CSP could be less if the economical and social factors are taken into account. The most preferred locations for implementing the afforestation strategy were found to be concentrated along a west-east axis across the southern parts of Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, as well as in an area covering southern Michigan and northern parts of Indiana and Ohio. Overall, we conclude that afforestation of MagLand in the Midwest U.S. region offers great potential for carbon sequestration. Future studies are needed to evaluate its economic feasibility, social acceptability, and operation capability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)415-427
Number of pages13
JournalForest Ecology and Management
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Forestry
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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