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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Droughts and Biomass Supply

A reader asked...
"Chuck, 
I am curious about droughts and forest health. With the ongoing drought situation, and reported likelihood that droughts become the norm, have you seen any information on how this may affect the biomass industry long term?

Thank you, 
M"
My reply to M...
"Well, long term over a wide range is pretty tough to predict. 
First of all, drought rarely kills trees except in the most extreme of circumstances...they simply slow down on growth, unless the drought is extreme for several years in a row. A good wet year generally brings their root system back to life. In Pennsylvania, despite all the talk about drought, we're having a good year for forest growth (notice how green it is out there?)

The relationship between rainfall and forest growth is really an issue of species. As rainfall amounts decrease, areas affected are likely to see species change. So if drought caused the annual rainfall in an area to actually decrease over time, we would see some certain species gradually replaced in the forest by species that require less rain. But still biomass would be there...although the growth rates would decline some.
Northern Quebec, 2512 A.D. 
Also, as global temperature increases, areas further north will become more productive. So, Canada would produce more biomass under global warming. In fact, Pennsylvania would become more productive as well for certain species, such as pine and yellow poplar.  If you saw my blog post on Logging the Redwoods, you may remember that the narrator said that Greenland and Alaska were once covered with redwoods, long ago when the global climate was warmer. So, long-term temperature changes really just move the species around, they don't necessarily impact the global volume of biomass.

East Texas livestock ranch, 2512 A.D.

And remember, CO2 is food for trees, so the higher the CO2 level goes, the more biomass growth we will get, at least until the planet burns up. And by then we won't be worrying about the biomass industry. "







Now, my friends the ecologists and climate scientists will quibble over practically every statement I made in the above reply. And of course, I'm treating a complex issue very lightly...but that's what normally I do at Go Wood. Insects, disease, and fires, all related to drought, will significantly impact biomass supply if not effectively controlled. And yet, generally, that is the way it works...species adapt and move to where they can best thrive. And they do.

Bottom line, biomass is here for awhile, probably longer than man. Supply-side prospects for the biomass industry: great, and looking better all the time.

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