Ridiculous study: Charcoal remains could accelerate CO2 emissions after forest fires

From HOKKAIDO UNIVERSITY and the “one-sided science” department comes this ridiculous study that ignores two important things. 1) Forest fires are a natural process that creates forest rebirth, and had been going on well before man even became sentient enough to worry about “CO2 emissions” and 2) Due to suppression efforts, forest fires (at least in the USA), are burning less acreage while CO2 rises:

Charcoal remains after a forest fire help decompose fine roots in the soil, potentially accelerating CO2 emissions in boreal forests.

Due to the location of the trees, the concentration of charcoal differs from place to place. Photo by Bryanin S.V.

Boreal forests are a huge carbon sink. The fine roots, not only the leaves, stems and branches of trees, largely contribute to carbon accumulation. The Russian Far East has had an increasing number of forest fires, many of which are believed to be caused by global warming and human activities. Burning trees in forest fires naturally cause the emission of CO2, but little is known about the extent to which fire-derived charcoal influences ecosystem processes, such as soil organic matter decomposition.

The researchers, including Russian Academy of Science Senior Researcher Semyon Bryanin and Hokkaido University Assistant Professor Makoto Kobayashi, performed field litterbag experiments over 515 days, incubating fine larch roots with varying concentrations of charcoal in the soil. Mass loss of fine roots was measured in each of four conditions over nearly two years: control (no charcoal); mean charcoal content measured in the field; twice the mean charcoal content measured in the field; and charcoal content equal to the maximum concentration in the field.

According to the results, charcoal had little effect on the decomposition of fine roots right after they were buried in soil. But at the end of the experiment, the loss of root mass in samples incubated with higher concentrations of charcoal was greater (double content: 40 percent; maximum content: 42 percent) than in the control (30 percent) and the average content conditions (27 percent). “Our study has provided the first field evidence that fire-derived charcoal might accelerate the decomposition of fine larch roots and consequently CO2 emissions from boreal forest,” says Makoto Kobayashi.

The finding likely will help predict future changes in CO2 concentration in the atmosphere should more forest fires be triggered by global warming and human activities.

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The study: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0038071716306575?via%3Dihub

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Paul Blase

It would be interesting to know why the decomposition accelerated. Does charcoal promote bacterial growth? More osmoortantly, should I add it to my compost pile?

Paul Blase

“Importantly”. Stupid on-screen keyboard.

PiperPaul

Dammit, I thought I’d learned a new word there.

Bryan A

I like it

Bryan A

Perhaps you could Bitcoin it and make a few E-bucks

Thomas Ryan

Paul, you sre in good company. William Shakespeare added more words to our language than anyone. I think we should add osmoortantly to our dictionaries when discussing things like the 97% consensus. Happy New Year.

birdynumnum

Osmoortantly:
Pertaining to or of Australian upland windswept areas mostly devoid of trees.

Crispin in Waterloo

My dictionary has the same definition.

george e. smith

A forest has at least three possible futures, and I’m sure with enough grant money I could find many more.
So let’s start with a forest left to itself unmolested by man.
Option 1/ is for it to continue to act as a carbon sink, and turning atmospheric CO2 into wood inside the trees, and this might continue until the forest becomes one continuous block of wood. To the best of my knowledge, in my lifetime this has never happened.
Then there is option 2/ the so-called California option. Every year the forest can simply burn to the ground, and turn all of those trees back into CO2 in the air. Well this never seems to happen either, because humans will interfere with the fire and stop it from burning everything back to CO2. This tends to be because some people like Hansel and Gretel like to live in the forest so they build houses so that they become indistinguishable from a tree when next year’s fire happens.

Then there’s option 3/ the greenies “Old-Growth” forest; AKA ” The leave it alone” forest.

This forest never turns to a single solid block of wood, and it manages to avoid the all CO2 future, so it sits there and appears to do nothing. Well actually it never stops doing stuff, like growing some new leaves, and some new wood, and making some new leaf mulch on the ground, or getting trees blown over by the wind, so they are down at microbe height where the bugs can eat them and gradually get rid of them by turning them back into CO2 or methane and other useful products.

It would seem to be that the greenies old growth forest muct be carbon neutral because it never becomes all wood or all CO2.

So yes we should preserve old growth forests just for themselves; but let’s not kid ourselves; they are not saving us from carbon dioxide engulfment.

Some forests undergo morphology, and turn from trees on the outside of houses to extrees inside of houses; AKA lumber !

G

rogerthesurf

G. The most likely future of a forest which must apply to ALL mature forests is that they each reach an equilibrium where dying trees give up their CO2 and make room for younger trees who will take the same amount of CO2 from the atmosphere.

A forest can never continue to extract net amounts of CO2 in perpetuity.

Make sense really, but the question of what to do when the planet is 100% forested has never been brought up – to my knowledge.

Cheers

Roger

http://www.thedemisesofchristchurch.com

Samuel C Cogar

A forest can never continue to extract net amounts of CO2 in perpetuity.

I believe there are only a few hardwood tree species that have a known “life expectancy”.

A mature forest in the temperate zones contains 25 kg wood per square meter, in the tropics about 100 kg per square meter.

Samuel C Cogar

@ teerhuis

That infers the tree heights are much greater in tropical forests, …… is that right?

TonyL

Without a doubt, a term of chemistry.

osmoortantly

Clearly, a reference to the importance of osmosis in this process.

Bryan A

Gaining Importance through Osmosis

tty

“Does charcoal promote bacterial growth?”

Very unlikely. Charcoal is remarkably chemically and biologically inert and can remain unchanged for hundreds of million years.

birdynumnum

And purifying all the water in the process,

george e. smith

Even billions of years but in supernovae, it slowly works its way up to becoming iron.

g

Samuel C Cogar

Charcoal is remarkably chemically and biologically inert and can remain unchanged for hundreds of million years

Not exactly, ……. because, to wit:

First, the older the object, the less carbon-14 there is to measure. Radiocarbon dating is therefore limited to objects that are younger than 50,000 to 60,000 years or so.

MarkW

Radioactive decay is neither a chemical or biological process.

Samuel C Cogar

Radioactive decay is neither a chemical or biological process.

Now that was a brilliant deduction. Did you learn that in kindergarten or bible school?

thomasjk

Ashes! Ashes! All fall down…………In addition to carbon and some amounts of moisture, charcoal contains water soluble nutrients such as phosphorous and potassium that have been taken up and incorporated into the trees and other plants that burn in a forest. What’s not to like about charcoal?

“osmoortantly” — I likw ir tpp.

Curious George

This study measured the effect of charcoal on a decomposition. They did not measure the effect on a new growth which counteracts the decomposition.

Crispin in Waterloo

The term-du-jour is “biochar” which is supposed to enhance growth. This can only happen if the carbon cycle is accelerated. The USDA has looked carefully into biochar application and reports that the result for crops are ambiguous. Enthusiasts report glowing things about charcoal in the soil, of course. Why not? In certain conditions in certain soils for certain crops, it works.

Forest fires produce huge amounts of char in the soil by burning underground for days or weeks, pyrolysing the large roots. It is obvious that CO2 and char are essential components of the forest system. The only bad thing that has happened over the past few tens of millions of years is that the atmospheric concentration as dropped precipitously and if we don’t do something dramatic, it will lead to the loss of the green biosphere. Time to get busy and save the world.

george e. smith

Do they say any glowing things about charcoal in the fireplace; like at Christmas ??

g

Amending soils with charcoal idea was applied, apparently effectively, by denizens of the Amazon centuries ago.

The soil they amended was labeled as “Terra-Preta”, i.e. black soil. Another link is https://permaculturenews.org/2017/08/08/terra-preta-amazon/.

In spite of USDA’s ambiguity, Orchidists and many growers of difficult plants include charcoal as a substantial portions of their potting mixes.

My orchids love charcoal amended potting mixes with orchid roots often firmly attached to charcoal pieces.

Many other plants I am growing have also benefited from my adding charcoal to their soils.
e.g. Fig trees, tomato and pepper plants, even herbs like thyme and rosemary.

Personally, I suspect charcoal minimizes negative impact of wet decomposing media while lightening soil mixes in a manner similar to perlite.

Results that strongly suggest “HOKKAIDO UNIVERSITY” and their researchers decided their results, before conducting one dimension research:

“Hokkaido University Assistant Professor Makoto Kobayashi, performed field litterbag experiments over 515 days, incubating fine larch roots with varying concentrations of charcoal in the soil”

Field “litterbags”?
Incubating?
Only larch roots?

515 days incubating soil mixes in litterbags and frequently checking their “fine larch roots”…

From the tiniest dregs of observation, amazing future scenarios are imagined.

ozspeaksup

and biochar in aus pushed BY the green mobs it costs some insane amount per tonne and is created especially safely so it reduces co2 from production…
bigest load of horseapples! but idiots bought the lie and the charcoal
simple burnoffs, and till it in, would do as much if not better at no cost at all.

I keep hearing the asserted inertness of charcoal , but given the masses of charcoal left by wild fires I would expect it to be much more geologically obvious ( wish I could think of a better phrase ) . Seems to me something must consume at least some of it under some conditions .

Also , while there may be some pines for which fire sprouts cones , they sure aren’t around this part of the Colorado Front Range . The terrain stay quite barren of seedlings even a decade after a fire . And those that occur tend to be dispersion from surviving stands . As a general meme , I think it’s more wishful thinking .

AndyG55

Don’t know about pine trees, but its really cool watching Eucalypt re-growth at it bursts out along the truck and branches.
comment image

tty

It doesn’t work like that for pines. Instead the heat of the fire makes the pine cones open and release the seeds (note: this applies mostly to the “hard pines”, like e. g. scots pine and lodgepole pine).

Larry Geiger

That’s called adventitious budding. Some pines do this but many do not. The longleaf pine in the southeast does not do this. It is one of the main pine growths subject to fire. Also, slash pines don’t.

Pamela Gray

“…had been going on well before man even became ‘stupid’ enough to worry about “CO2 emissions”

There. Fixed that typo for you.

Any study worrying about CO2 emissions is irreconcilably flawed before it even starts.

george e. smith

Or even floored Hardwood of course.

g

joelobryan

This study is so ridiculous it demands a ridiculous response;

Stevek

We all gonna die !

HotScot

Shouldn’t we all be dead already?

Tom in Florida

From the study:
“Although root decomposition in the root-bag method differs from the natural process…”

Say what?

Les

So in effect, they took bags of soil, with fine roots from one tree species and measured the decomposition rate (while varying the amounts of charcoal) all while storing them in some kind of incubated process for 515 days.

Around the world ‘bio-char’ is known to be one of the best things you can add to your soil.

So what would happen if i did that with a bannana? Outside in a natural process it would be rotted and gone in days. In a bag with a limited amount of soil, no natural ‘breathing’ process & no natural ‘seeding” process where bacteria, spores, microrhyzae and a host of other organisms take root and contribute – you end up with a garbage dump version of toxicity.

Crispin in Waterloo

Biochar is indeed an element of modern organic fertilisers. It can also be added in the form the biomass was before it was charred, for example, banana peels instead of charcoaled banana peels. Ditto for hay and corn stover.

Why is anyone surprised that organic recycling works to improve plant growth? Beats me.

Tom in Florida

The bags are made of mesh.

Crispin in Waterloo

Their arguments are made of much.

Philo

An inch lf chipped wood mulch can do marvelous things for a lawn when spread evenly of even the lousiest grass trying to grow on clay. In a year or two it produces about 3inches of real soil.

The natives in in the Amazon Forest(very poor soil), pre Columbus, built “farms” of piles of slap-dash pottery and the charcoal from making it into soil that has survived as extremely fertile plots even until the present.

jorgekafkazar

Bannana’s are vulnerable to greengrocer’s apostophe.

katio1505

Biochar is not a fertilizer. It consists almost exclusively of inert carbon atoms, and is not able to supply the macro-elements (N,P,S,K,Ca,Mg) necessary for plant growth. In fact, the presence of volatile organics (under some methods of preparation) reduces plant yields. In certain circumstances its physical properties might allow it to function as a soil amendment, but not as a fertilizer.

BillP

If I am reading the study correctly, they just measured root mass and made no attempt to analyse the composition of the roots or identify were the lost mass had gone.

So it is not clear how much of the lost mass was carbon and there is not one shred of evidence that any of it formed CO2.

jorgekafkazar

In Post-Normal Climate Science, ‘evidence’ is an outmoded concept.

J Mac

Hokkaido University performs Root Cause Analysis……

Boris

Here is an example of how engineers can be blind sided by external circumstances by not looking at the bigger picture. I worked at a remote gas plant for a time where natural gas from wells was processed to remove water, CO2 and H2S before it was shipped to market by pipeline. One of the issues at the site was due to the level of H2S in the gas contained breathing apparatus needed to be worn when opening any line, vessel or system that had to be repaired or replaced. The breathing apparatus used rechargeable bottles for the air supply and to start with the only breathing air compressor was in town 80 miles away to refill the bottles. As luck would have it there were a large number of bottles on site but there were a number of times where they were all empty and to refill them was made impossible by the weather or the roads were impassable due to mud or rain. Simple solution by head office engineering was to install a breathing air compressor in a little heated shack on site. Problem solved. Not so fast to get this new system certified the needed to have 5 samples of compressed air tested by a lab. 4 of the five samples failed to pass the tests due to high CO2 readings. What the heck. The head office engineers was totally baffled by this sample failure. Even re-sampling of the air had no effect they could not understand why there was a high CO2 reading. Myself and another site worker looked into this and our findings were rather hilarious. The little shack was placed in some trees at the edge of a parking pad by a large shop. When the samples were taken from the air compressor it was summer and the shack was surrounded by a few feet of fallen rotting leaves from the trees. The air inlet filter for the compressor was a few feet off the ground but as the air was compressed it concentrated the CO2 given off by the rotting leaves for the samples of air to fail due to higher readings. The solution to the problem was to move the shack over by the shop so it was fully surrounded by the concrete pad. End of problem. So the moral of the story is “Yes rotting leaves give of CO2”.

Boris

Ecsuse the typo’s in the first post as I am fighting a cold.

jorgekafkazar

We shall not cast any aspersions achoo for typographical errors. Including greengrocers’ apostrophes.

tty

As a matter of fact the CO2 level inside a forest is often several times higher than in the open atmosphere. Not to speak about the level in soil which can be tens to hundreds of times higher.
CO2 is not a well-mixed gas.

AndyG55

No link, but I recall some measurements over a field on a clam day.

Started around 600ppm in the morning, then the corn sucked that level down to 200ppm before midday, where it stayed.

The crop was only actually growing for the first few hours of the day, because they couldn’t access any more CO2.

george e. smith

Well Andy, I can dig clam days !

Any day of the week is a good clam day as far as I am concerned.

g

Boris

Here is an example of how engineers can be blind sided by external circumstances by not looking at the bigger picture. I worked at a remote gas plant for a time where natural gas from wells was processed to remove water, CO2 and H2S before it was shipped to market by pipeline. One of the issues at the site was due to the level of H2S in the gas contained breathing apparatus needed to be worn when opening any line, vessel or system that had to be repaired or replaced. The breathing apparatus used rechargeable bottles for the air supply and to start with the only breathing air compressor was in town 80 miles away to refill the bottles. As luck would have it there were a large number of bottles on site but there were a number of times where they were all empty and to refill them was made impossible by the weather or the roads were impassable due to mud or rain. Simple solution by head office engineering was to install a breathing air compressor in a little heated shack on site. Problem solved. Not so fast to get this new system certified there needed to be 5 samples of compressed air tested by a lab. 4 of the five samples failed to pass the tests due to high CO2 readings. What the heck. The head office engineers were totally baffled by this sample failure. Even re-sampling of the air had no effect they could not understand why there was a high CO2 reading. Myself and another site worker looked into this and our findings were rather hilarious. The little shack was placed in some trees at the edge of a parking pad by a large shop. When the samples were taken from the air compressor it was summer and the shack was surrounded by a few feet of fallen rotting leaves from the trees. The air inlet filter for the compressor was a few feet off the ground but as the air was compressed it concentrated the CO2 given off by the rotting leaves for the samples of air to fail due to higher readings. The solution to the problem was to move the shack over by the shop so it was fully surrounded by the concrete pad. End of problem. So the moral of the story is “Yes rotting leaves give off CO2”.

michael hart

The finding likely will help predict future changes in CO2 concentration in the atmosphere should more forest fires be triggered by global warming and human activities.

Twaddle, as usual. The relative chemical inertness of charcoal, coupled with the fact that they are trying to study heterogeneous-phase (bio)chemistry, means that all bets are effectively off:
“…field litterbag experiments over 515 days” is just silly. 515 millenia might be more appropriate if they could also conduct adequate control experiments.

Richard

Amazing how you can find only what you are looking for and avoid finding what would be inconvenient. The new improved scientific method for lemmings.

tty

The odd thing is that there are few things more chemically or biologically inert than charcoal. There is still fossil charcoal (fusain) around from the very first forest fires back in the Devonian 300 million years ago:

https://digitalcommons.wcupa.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1014&context=geol_facpub

It’s hard to see how charcoal could directly affect the speed of decomposition of larch roots or anything else. However I suppose if you mix a lot of charcoal into the usually rather impermeable podsol soil it would become more permeable to air, which would speed up aerobic bacterial decomposition. Whether this could occur under natural conditions in a natural forest seems more doubtful. For one thing there will probably be no climate scientists around to mix the charcoal into the soil.

michael hart

Yup.
As I said above, if one pretends that solid charcoal (carbon) is more reactive than it is, then you get to pretty much claim anything among the believers. Adding a bit of extra sand or silt to a beach over thousands of years is also unlikely to make much difference to the local biome. The person who claims they can either measure the difference, or model it, should be locked up.

Latitude

So?….it speeded it up a little bit….was going to do it anyway

george e. smith

Well charcoal that can stick around for 300 million years just makes everything else look like it’s a fast process; it’s an illusion.

g

Anonymoose

After the decomposition, is the dirt enriched in organic carbon-containing material? If the life cycle of a forest does not enrich the dirt then how has the forest survived? (Is it being fed minerals from rocks?)

John F. Hultquist

We heard a presentation recently.
Fires cause soot (black).
It gets in trees downwind, and stays there in decreasing amounts for about 3 years.
It gets on snow. Snow melts faster.
Each fire sends soot into its own unique area. Bigger fires = more soot over a larger area.
Some have thought early snow melt was because of climate change.
This study was by actual people up to their knees in white stuff, measuring and taking samples; that is, it was real research and not a thought experiment.

Davies

You have 2 choices of what to do with a mature forest, especially the boreal forest, you cut it down and make use of the wood products, or you let it burn down, such is the life of the forest.

rigelsys

and then there’s the counter argument that burning forests into charcoal and burying the charcoal would help reduce global warming.

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/407754/the-case-for-burying-charcoal/

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t….

davidgmillsatty

The ancient Amerindians used charcoal to amend the soil in what is now known as terra preta or dark earth. What charcoal does to the soil is well known. I have been adding it to my yard for at least ten years. Another name for the process is called biochar. Since charcoal stays in the soil for an average of 1300 years, many people advocate using it as a means of returning carbon to depleted soils. It is known for being both a luxury hotel and gourmet restaurant for microorganisms due to the minerals that charcoal holds.

One explanation for the paper’s negative results on plant growth is this. Initial application of charcoal often results in competition with roots of plants and plant health declines until the charcoal is fully “inoculated.” Most people who amend with charcoal use some kind of inoculation technique before amending their soil with it, like leaving it in a compost tea for several weeks before applying it or attempting to grow anything in it.

Frederik Michiels

not sure but all i know is my garden of my rental house was really depleted and even grass had it difficult to grow.

after having transformed my garden into a volcanic ashfall site three times using the ashes from the stove it got in good shape again….

Khwarizmi

The word “potassium” was derived from plant ashes mixed in a pot of water, i.e. pot+ashes
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potash
Your soil was probably potassium deficient.