Warnell wins $1.34 million USDA climate change grant

May 25, 2011

By SANDI MARTIN

Public Relations Coordinator

Athens, Ga. – Researchers and an outreach specialist at the University of Georgia have been awarded a $1.3 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 UGA Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources will focus on developing strategies for southern conifer forest mitigation of and adaption 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. The team, led by Warnell Professor Michael Kane, 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.

Kane said 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. “If climate change does occur, we need to know how to manage southern conifer plantations under evolving climatic conditions,” he said. Professor Daniel Markewitz, a co-investigator on the project, noted that “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. The portion of the trees we leave below ground can help remove some carbon dioxide that otherwise might be in the atmosphere.”

The rest of the team consists of Distinguished Research Professor Robert Teskey and Assistant Research Professor Dehai Zhao, both with Warnell, and Southern Regional Extension Forester and Warnell adjunct faculty member Bill Hubbard. Each team member has a unique role in the five-year project, and their research efforts will span forest sites in South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia, using existing pine plantation research installations already established by the Plantation Management Research Cooperative, which has been conducting management research since 1975. The researchers will carefully monitor and characterize tree components both above and below ground and quantify potential energy and carbon storage.

Teskey will conduct ecophysiological measurements to determine the environmental and biological factors contributing to tree growth and productivity. Hubbard will reach out to southern landowners, youth, natural resource professionals and the public to educate them about proper management techniques in light of research findings. “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.”

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, in part because of recent biofuels feedstock production and carbon sequestration research. Southeastern forests store enough carbon each year to offset 13 percent of the region’s greenhouse gas emissions, Kane said.

The UGA team and the larger southern team have high goals for the climate change project. They hope to see a number of significant outcomes, including developing advanced fiber production systems and new plant cultivars adapted to changing climate, reducing use of energy and nitrogen fertilizer through greater efficiencies by 10 percent, and increasing the amount of carbon being stored by southern pines by 15 percent by 2030. “These outcomes will promote enhanced productivity of southern pine forests while maintaining economic and ecological sustainability,” Kane said.

For more information, contact:

Michael Kane, 706/542-3009, mkane@warnell.uga.edu
Daniel Markewitz, 706/542-0133, dmarke@warnell.uga.edu
Robert Teskey, 706/542-5055, rteskey@uga.edu
Dehai Zhao, 706/542-6021, dzhao@warnell.uga.edu
Bill Hubbard, 706/542-7813, whubbard@uga.edu

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