Original Article

Climatic Change

, Volume 80, Issue 3, pp 323-336

First online:

Satellite-derived estimates of potential carbon sequestration through afforestation of agricultural lands in the United States

  • Christopher PotterAffiliated withNASA Ames Research Center Email author 
  • , Steven KloosterAffiliated withCalifornia State University Monterey Bay
  • , Seth HiattAffiliated withSan Jose State University and Education Associates
  • , Matthew FladelandAffiliated withNASA Ames Research Center
  • , Vanessa GenoveseAffiliated withCalifornia State University Monterey Bay
  • , Peggy GrossAffiliated withCalifornia State University Monterey Bay

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Afforestation of marginal agricultural lands represents a promising option for carbon sequestration in terrestrial ecosystems. An ecosystem carbon model was used to generate new national maps of annual net primary production (NPP), one each for continuous land covers of ‘forest’, ‘crop’, and ‘rangeland’ over the entire U. S. continental area. Direct inputs of satellite “greenness” data from the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) sensor into the NASA-CASA carbon model at 8-km spatial resolution were used to estimate spatial variability in monthly NPP and potential biomass accumulation rates in a uniquely detailed manner. The model predictions of regrowth forest production lead to a conservative national projection of 0.3 Pg C as potential carbon stored each year on relatively low-production crop or rangeland areas. On a regional level, the top five states for total crop afforestation potential were: Texas, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri, whereas the top five states for total rangeland afforestation potential are: Texas, California, Montana, New Mexico, and Colorado. Afforestation at this level of intensity has the capacity to offset at least one-fifth of annual fossil fuel emission of carbon in the United States. These projected afforestation carbon gains also match or exceed recent estimates of the annual sink for atmospheric CO2 in currently forested area of the country.