Campus News

University awarded $1.34 million USDA climate change grant

Researchers and an outreach specialist at UGA have been awarded a $1.34 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to identify and promote ways pine forests can be used to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

The grant is part of a larger $20 million award being coordinated by the University of Florida, which is leading an 11-university consortium to conduct research, extension and outreach education about the potential for pine trees as a climate change solution.

A five-man team from the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources will focus on developing strategies for Southern conifer forest mitigation of and adaptation to climate change, expanding existing research on forest productivity, management impacts and carbon sequestration. With carbon sequestration, trees are used to capture and store carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere.

Led by Michael Kane, professor of quantitative silviculture, the team will develop new forest management approaches to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, enhance carbon sequestration, increase the efficient use of nitrogen fertilizers and increase forest resilience in the face of a changing climate.

If climate change projections are correct, then management of Southern forests could be important in lessening the impacts by decreasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, according to Kane.

“If climate change does occur, we need to know how to manage Southern conifer plantations under evolving climatic conditions,” he said.

“Use of pine trees for liquid biofuel production can be part of the solution to climate change by reducing our carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere from fossil fuel burning,” said Daniel Markewitz, associate professor of soil site productivity and project co-investigator. “The portion of the trees we leave below ground can help remove some carbon dioxide that otherwise might be in the atmosphere.”

Other team members are Robert Teskey, Distinguished Research Professor of Physiology and Forest Ecology; Dehai Zhao, assistant research professor of statistics, forest biometrics and management; and Bill Hubbard, a forester with Southern Regional Extension and an adjunct faculty member at Warnell.

In the 11 Southern states reaching from Virginia to Texas, 60 percent of all land is forested. Pine-dominated stands cover more than 50 million acres, of which more than 30 million acres are planted forests, called plantations by foresters. The financial impact the forest industry has on the U.S. economy is well known, but policy leaders also are now truly realizing the forests’ environmental effects. Southeastern forests store enough carbon each year to offset 13 percent of the region’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to Kane.

“There is not an easy fix to climate change, so we must attack the problem from many angles,” Teskey said. “Using trees to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in wood is one very promising way to reduce its impact.”