Claim: California’s Carbon Mitigation Efforts May be Thwarted by Climate Change Itself

UCI study: Higher heat will limit ecosystem’s role in removing atmospheric CO2


Research News


Irvine, Calif., July 22, 2021 – To meet an ambitious goal of carbon neutrality by 2045, California’s policymakers are relying in part on forests and shrublands to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, but researchers at the University of California, Irvine warn that future climate change may limit the ecosystem’s ability to perform this service.

In a paper published today in the American Geophysical Union journal AGU Advances, the UCI Earth system scientists stressed that rising temperatures and uncertain precipitation will cause a decrease in California’s natural carbon storage capacity of as much as 16 percent under an extreme climate projection and of nearly 9 percent under a more moderate scenario.

“This work highlights the conundrum that climate change poses to the state of California,” said lead author Shane Coffield, a UCI Ph.D. candidate in Earth system science. “We need our forests and other plant-covered areas to provide a ‘natural climate solution’ of removing carbon dioxide from the air, but heat and drought caused by the very problem we’re trying to solve could make it more difficult to achieve our objectives.”

Trees and plants draw CO2 from the atmosphere when they photosynthesize, and some of the carbon ends up stored in their biomass or the soil. California’s climate strategy depends in part on enhanced carbon storage to offset some of the emissions from transportation, power generation and other sources. The combination of this natural carbon sequestration system and measures to promote green energy is hoped to help the state reach its target of not contributing net carbon to the environment by 2045.

But the UCI scientists suggest that an even more aggressive approach to curtailing emissions may be necessary.

“The emissions scenario that we follow will have a large effect on the carbon storage potential of our forests,” said co-author James Randerson, who holds the Ralph J. & Carol M. Cicerone Chair in Earth System Science at UCI. “A more moderate emissions scenario in which we convert to more renewable energy sources leads to about half of the ecosystem carbon [sequestration] loss compared to a more extreme emissions scenario.”

Coffield said that current climate models are not in agreement about California’s future precipitation, but it’s probable that the northern part of the state will get wetter and the southern part drier. He also said that coastal areas of Central and Northern California and low- and mid-elevation mountain areas – sites of large offset projects – are the most likely to lose some of their carbon sequestration powers over the next several decades.

In addition, the researchers were able to estimate the effects of climate change on specific tree species. They project that coast redwoods will be constrained to the far northern part of their range by the end of the century and that hotter, drier conditions will favor oak trees at the expense of conifers.

While the study used statistical modeling to peer into the future of the state’s ecosystems, the research also highlights the importance of present-day drought and wildfire as key mechanistic drivers of carbon sequestration losses. Other studies have estimated that the 2012-2015 drought killed more than 40 percent of ponderosa pines in the Sierra Nevada range. Another issue the researchers describe is the loss of trees from California’s worsening wildfire situation.

“We hope that this work will inform land management and climate policies so that steps can be taken to protect existing carbon stocks and tree species in the most climate-vulnerable locations,” Randerson said. “Effective management of fire risk is essential for limiting carbon [sequestration] losses throughout much of the state.”


Joining Coffield and Randerson on this project were Kyle Hemes, from the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University; Charles Koven, from the Climate & Ecosystem Sciences Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; and Michael Goulden, UCI professor of Earth system science and ecology & evolutionary biology. The study received funding from the National Science Foundation, the UC National Laboratory Fees Research Program, and the California Strategic Growth Council’s Climate Change Research Program.

About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is the youngest member of the prestigious Association of American Universities and is ranked among the nation’s top 10 public universities by U.S. News & World Report. The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 36,000 students and offers 224 degree programs. It’s located in one of the world’s safest and most economically vibrant communities and is Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $7 billion annually to the local economy and $8 billion statewide. For more on UCI, visit

Media access: Radio programs/stations may, for a fee, use an on-campus ISDN line to interview UCI faculty and experts, subject to availability and university approval. For more UCI news, visit Additional resources for journalists may be found at

From EurekAlert!

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Coeur de Lion
November 26, 2022 2:27 pm

Erm, when a tree rots or burns, its CO2 is released. As a CO2 store, a forest is neutral. Don’t all these PhDs know that?

Reply to  Coeur de Lion
November 26, 2022 2:46 pm

There are very many things these PhDs don’t know and Sadly they get paid to advertise the fact; such as in this paper.
It seems they are not aware that an INCREASE in CO2 emissions results in MORE biomass being produced. (For PhDs- that is called greening)

Reply to  cognog2
November 26, 2022 8:51 pm

Yes, cognog,
In my early days a PhD candidate was at risk of being sacked on the spot for suggesting writing a paper.
Main reason was that time had not yet permitted the gaining of knowledge and wisdom that helps a lot in the advancement of important science.
I was a precocious 35 before I first published, 44 for the second.
And I had started shaving. Geoff S

Reply to  sherro01
November 26, 2022 10:53 pm

My understanding of gaining a PhD these days, is the candidate writes a few papers, has them published, pops the papers between a starting and an ending chapter, and, hey presto!, a PhD is awarded.

No lengthy thesis, no real addition to their field of scientific choice, just a few papers, often paying lip service to the “climate crises/ warming/ emergency/ tomorrows scary term”.

If a PhD candidate can invent their own really, really scary climate term, it’s summa cum laude time

Reply to  Coeur de Lion
November 26, 2022 2:46 pm

Good thinking. Maybe they could bulldoze all the trees and bury them every couple of decades or so and plant new ones, so that the trees’ carbon is sequestered in the ground. Using only solar- or sail-powered bulldozers of course.

MIke McHenry
Reply to  Mike Jonas
November 26, 2022 4:46 pm

It was pointed out long ago that Americas wood frame houses are an enormous carbon sink.

Reply to  Coeur de Lion
November 26, 2022 3:21 pm

Half the tree is below ground in the roots, and will decay and trap carbon in the soil. The best way to capture carbon would be a permaculture method of chop and drop. Grow aggressive plants / trees chop them down, mulch with above ground matter and the below ground rots in the soil. Of course, this is inexpensive, works and will improve soil quality so governments will never do it. If I thought there was a real crisis cause of CO2, I’d be scared these idiots are in charge that’s for sure.

Reply to  Coeur de Lion
November 27, 2022 7:01 am

Coeur, the boreal forests hold gigatons of CO2 derived cellulose and lignin that were not there 10,000 years ago during the last glaciation. I don’t think you can call it neutral in this case.

Tim Gorman
November 26, 2022 2:30 pm

Coffield said that current climate models are not in agreement about California’s future precipitation, but it’s probable that the northern part of the state will get wetter and the southern part drier.”

In other words, CA is going to return to its traditional environment. What a surprise!

Southern CA has historically been mostly arid and semi-arid desert. Northern CA has been much wetter with forests and pastures. Inland CA has been Mediterranean.

” researchers at the University of California, Irvine warn that future climate change may limit the ecosystem’s ability to perform this service.”

Were all these researchers born after 1950 and think history started when they were born?

Reply to  Tim Gorman
November 27, 2022 6:10 am

That may be the problem. All these “researchers” seem to be young and well-indoctrinated(brainwashed) to discount the actual factual research which went on prior to their birth. By looking around I can tell that academia has managed to destroy itself by supporting the “climate change”(weather natural cycle) of the idiots on the left. Anything which comes from the west coast is now suspect of bullshittery.

abolition man
November 26, 2022 2:43 pm

“Higher heat will limit ecosystem’s role in removing atmospheric CO2.”
Yeah, especially when your moronic forestry practices help them to burn in high temperature “super fires!”
When did reason and intellect get removed from the Commiefornia school systems? Did it happen over night, or was there a gradual reduction that speeded up after I successfully made my escape to freedom!?

Reply to  abolition man
November 26, 2022 5:41 pm

The long march through the institutions has born fruit.

Reply to  Retired_Engineer_Jim
November 26, 2022 8:53 pm

Borne perhaps?

Reply to  sherro01
November 26, 2022 10:58 pm

Oooh, I dunno Geoff, maybe it was a citrus reference

November 26, 2022 2:43 pm

From Equator to pole, temperature varies from +30 to -30 or about 170 km per degree. So along the Pacific Coast, they only need to look at what the climate is 340 km further South at same altitude to see what the climate might be with 2 degrees warming. Answer: The forest around Ensenada, Baha California, Mexico is quite is very similar to present day Southern California minus the box store parking lots.

comment image

Curious George
November 26, 2022 2:53 pm

California will dry mercilessly for 20 years. Then an “atmospheric river” will inundate the Central Valley. The capital city Sacramento will be submerged. The year will be 1861.

John Hultquist
Reply to  Curious George
November 26, 2022 9:12 pm

The rain started in 1861 but the event is usually given the name: ‘The Great Flood of 1862’That’s where it is found on Wikipedia.

About 10 years ago there was a flurry of news activity because the USGS published a report referred to as ARkStorm. A search here on WUWT will take you to discussions of that report.

Tom Halla
November 26, 2022 3:30 pm

Carbon storage is a lame reason to use a Smokey the Bear approach to managing Mediterranian wildlands. Burning routinely is normal, and required for some of the species, like redwoods or Jack pine.
But justifying the folly of CARB denying controlled burns, or agreeing with some green NGOs that doing nothing is the only acceptable approach is more why they are claiming “carbon storage” as a benefit.

November 26, 2022 5:05 pm

Take a look at the paper! CO2 emissions, cause feedbacks… IPCC RCP models say so!
– – – – – – – – –

Climate-Driven Limits to Future Carbon Storage in California’s Wildland Ecosystems
Enhanced ecosystem carbon storage is a key component of many climate mitigation pathways. The State of California has set an ambitious goal of carbon neutrality by 2045, relying in part on enhanced carbon sequestration in natural and working lands. We used statistical modeling, including random forest and climate analog approaches, to explore the climate-driven challenges and uncertainties associated with the goal of long-term carbon sequestration in forests and shrublands. We found that seasonal patterns of temperature and precipitation are strong controllers of the spatial distribution of aboveground live carbon. RCP8.5 projections of temperature and precipitation are estimated to drive decreases of 16.1% ± 7.5% in aboveground live carbon by the end of the century, with coastal areas of central and northern California and low/mid-elevation mountain areas being most vulnerable.

Sweet Old Bob
November 26, 2022 5:15 pm

And , from saturday summary (free)….

get ready for more “climate change caused this ” bs being the reason for the coming December cold period .
Try to be prepared for this .
MJO , NPO , EPO etc . setting up for a nasty cold spell . Well worth seeing their summary .

Reply to  Sweet Old Bob
November 26, 2022 5:44 pm

Over the entire country? If not, where?

Sweet Old Bob
Reply to  Retired_Engineer_Jim
November 26, 2022 7:01 pm

Really hits central USA , Europe also …
visit for Joe Bastardis presentation .

Sweet Old Bob
Reply to  Retired_Engineer_Jim
November 27, 2022 6:31 am
Rich Davis
November 26, 2022 5:16 pm

YouReekAlot! typical rubbish.

Reply to  Rich Davis
November 26, 2022 5:45 pm

UC, or any university, typical rubbish.

AGW is Not Science
Reply to  Retired_Engineer_Jim
November 28, 2022 5:14 am

ESPECIALLY if said uni is in California…

Ireneusz Palmowski
November 27, 2022 5:08 am

My suggestion for California forests is Eisenia fetida, which can brilliantly help reduce litter in forests, which can reduce fire danger.
“Range and Habitat: Native to Europe, the species is now found on all the continents of the world; except for Antarctica. They thrive in areas with rotting manure, compost, vegetation, etc. As opposed to other worms, these worms are epigeal in nature, i.e., they are found above the soil or in the top soil.”

Reply to  Ireneusz Palmowski
November 28, 2022 2:37 pm

I could not get any to survive in my 11 years of California garden even with putting as much compost and horse manure on the soil as I could get my hands on. The vegetables did great, however.

Ireneusz Palmowski
Reply to  AndyHce
November 29, 2022 1:36 am

In the garden, they are best kept in closed boxes. In winter, do not water, cover with cardboard and a thick layer of leaves. They don’t require much manure, but they do need cellulose.  

November 27, 2022 10:30 am

Coffield said that current climate models are not in agreement about California’s future precipitation.

That’s because people write the code to program models and nobody can write code that predicts the future. If they could, they wouldn’t waste their time writing code for anything other than stock market futures.

Last edited 2 months ago by doonman
November 27, 2022 10:59 am

“We found that seasonal patterns of temperature and precipitation are strong controllers of the spatial distribution of aboveground live carbon.” a long winded way of saying plants need proper temperature and water levels to thrive. Academia at its best.

AGW is Not Science
November 28, 2022 7:36 am

So to summarize this mountain of manure, they ASSUME a “hotter, drier” climate when reality shows the increase in AVERAGE temps to mostly be WARMER NIGHTIME LOW temperatures, and when the “models” don’t provide the necessary “predictions” about northern vs. southern “differences” they simply pull (another) baseless prediction out of the ether.

And the foundation of this is the ASSUMPTION that CO2 drives the temperature of the Earth, the ASSUMPTION that human fossil fuel use drives atmospheric CO2, and the ridiculous notion that a warmer climate is worse. These assumptions are not facts, data, or “science.” Plus of course the ignoring of actual history with regard to wildfires (NO, wildfires are NOT “worsening”).

Even flies wouldn’t eat this much shit.

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