Water, Air, and Soil Pollution

, Volume 85, Issue 1, pp 101-110

First online:

Global forest systems: An uncertain response to atmospheric pollutants and global climate change?

  • Robert K. DixonAffiliated withU.S. Support for Country Studies to Address Climate Change
  • , Joe WisniewskiAffiliated withWisniewski and Associates, Inc.

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Forest systems cover more than 4.1×109 ha of the Earth's land area. The future response and feedbacks of forest systems to atmospheric pollutants and projected climate change may be significant. Boreal, temperate and tropical forest systems play a prominent role in carbon (C), nitrogen (N) and sulfur (S) biogeochemical cycles at regional and global scales. The timing and magnitude of future changes in forest systems will depend on environmental factors such as a changing global climate, an accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere, and increase global mineralization of nutrients such as N and S. The interactive effects of all these factors on the world's forest regions are complex and not intuitively obvious and are likely to differ among geographic regions. Although the potential effects of some atmospheric pollutants on forest systems have been observed or simulated, large uncertainty exists in our ability to project future forest distribution, composition and productivity under transient or nontransient global climate change scenarios. The potential to manage and adapt forests to future global environmental conditions varies widely among nations. Mitigation practices, such as liming or fertilization to ameliorate excess NOx or SOx or forest management to sequester CO2 are now being applied in selected nations worldwide.

Key words

carbon nitrogen sulfur biogeochemistry mitigation global change