Carbon Sequestration in Virginia

pine plantations can capture carbon for several decades, and lumber can retain it for another century
pine plantations can capture carbon for several decades, and lumber can retain it for another century
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

Over the last three centuries, excessive amounts of carbon have been added to the atmosphere by burning coal, oil, and natural gas. Natural processes that extract carbon from the atmosphere, including absorption into the ocean, have been overwhelmed by the steady increase from use of fossil fuels, a demonstrated by the steady climb of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. Reduction of natural vegetation, especially in the Amazon River watershed, has limited the ability of plants to extract and sequester CO2 at a rate equal to the unnatural increase.

There are ways to extract more CO2 through carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) techniques.

The most expensive proposals for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere involve constructing facilities to separate it from nitrogen, oxygen, and other gases and inject the carbon dioxide into rock formations underground. The proposals do not involve creating massive uderground storage rooms. Instead, the CO2 is intended to interact chemically with oxygen and sulfur, already part of various minerals at depth, to create stable carbonates and sulfides. Those minerals will convert the CO2 from a gas to a solid, so it will not leak back through fissures in the bedrock to the atmosphere.

The least expensive techniques to sequester carbon is to rely upon natural photosynthesis to convert the carbon dioxide gas into cellulose and other materials within plants. The surface part of annual plants die and decay each year, returning much of their carbon back to the atmosphere, but their roots can create exudates and keep carbon in the soil. Perennials, especially trees, are particularly effective at capturing and retaining carbon for decades and even centuries. When trees are harvested, lumber products can keep carbon sequestered in buildings for even longer. Even paper, when buried in a landfill, traps carbon underground. However, burning firewood and wood chips for "renewable" electricity immediately puts CO2 back into the sky.

State agencies have calculated that forests in Virginia offset nearly 20% of the state's annual CO2 emissions, and the standing trees serve as a "carbon sink" that has sequestered 37 years of emissions. Conversion of forests to other land uses releases carbon through burning of woody debris and disturbance of carbon in the soils:1

...the loss of forest and land to agricultural or urban uses contributes about 3% of Virginia's CO2 emissions each year.

anthropogenic activities add more carbon each decade than natural processes can sequester, creating a steady increase in atmospheric CO2 levels
anthropogenic activities add more carbon each decade than natural processes can sequester, creating a steady increase in atmospheric CO2 levels
Source: ESRI, Global Carbon Budget 2020

Forest preservation and restoration projects in Southwest Virginia have sold carbon credits to businesses that generate emissions. In California, a state cap-and-trade program allows emitters to exceed their authorized levels, so long as the excess is offset by reductions elsewhere. Sequestering carbon in Virginia to offset emissions in California is a valid strategy for mitigating climate change. Carbon flows around the world in the atmosphere, so it does not matter where the sequestration occurs.2

In addition, regenerative agricultural practices can increase carbon stored within the soil.

Climate Change in Virginia

Will Norfolk (and the Rest of Hampton Roads) Drown?

Links

References

1. "Climate Change and Virginia Forests," Virginia Department of Forestry, http://dof.virginia.gov/ecosys/climate-change.htm (last checked February 20, 2021)
2. "Despite legislative blocks, one form of carbon cap-and-trade is alive and well in Virginia," Virginia Mercury, August 7, 2019, https://www.virginiamercury.com/2019/08/07/despite-legislative-blocks-one-form-of-carbon-cap-and-trade-is-alive-and-well-in-virginia/ (last checked February 20, 2021)


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