Thursday, June 19, 2008

Forests in the Mountains

There's an interesting website which details where all the forests on the planet are in relation to the mountains on Earth.

I had a question for some research I'm working on - how much of the world's forest are located above 1000 m? Why did I want to know this? Well ... humans on the planet like to burn fossil fuels and we often look to the natural environment to clean up after ourselves... we create lots of CO2 ... plants take up CO2 and turn it into energy, leaves, stems and wood - in effect sequestering Carbon. So there's a lot of interest in how much CO2 plants are taking up and how much they will take up in future. If we can understand what the Earth is doing we can plan accordingly ... that's the logic anyway.

So lots of people study how much CO2 plants (particularly forests) take up. But they tend to measure the forests they can get to easily and measure most effectively ... usually this means studying forests at low elevations on simple flat terrain. So I wondered ... how much of the world's forests are located in other places? i.e. in mountain regions?

Happily Valerie Kapos of Cambridge University and some colleague of hers have compiled a lot of this information for us.

Kapos, V., Rhind, J., Edwards, M., Ravilious C. and Price, M.F. (2002) Developing a map of the world's mountain forests. In: Price, M.F., Butt, N. (Eds)Forests in Sustainable Mountain Development (IUFRO Research) (IUFRO Research) CAB International, Wallingford, UK. ISBN-10: 0851994466ld K M Bugmann, Mel A Reasoner - Science - 2005 - 650 pages

So I spent the morning listening to the radio and compiling a big table from their work so I could estimate what fraction of the worlds forest was above 1000 m in elevation.

It turns out that nearly 12% of all forests of Earth are above 1000 m. One quarter of all these are in Antartica, nearly 20% are in the Far East and about 10% are in the US and Canada.

What does this mean? Well pretty simply ... we are trying very hard to work out how much CO2 forests are taking up ... but we are focusing nearly all of our effort on the easy to reach forests and all but ignoring the tough ones.


Utsav said...

hi wonderful research that you've considered.

Just wondering if the 1000 m was the primary delineating factor in defining mountain regions.

Dave said...


1000 m is completely arbitrary as far as I know - one that is agreed upon by several scientific authors but I've never seen a real reason put forward for that - if you live in the Himalayas you'll have a different definition than if you live in the UK... in the UK mountains must be over 610m (approx 2000ft) ... not sure if that would be accepted in more 'upright' parts of the world.