How much carbon dioxide can a tropical forest hold?

How much carbon dioxide can a tropical forest hold?

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Clip Guide

: Here you will find clear descriptions of what you just saw, how they know what they said they knew, why they know it to be trustworthy information. Finally we will ask the question, "So what!" and explore why the information is important.

WHAT do we know?

In this clip from the 2001 lecture, “The Disconnect Between Policy Makers and Scientists: An Overview of Tropical Forests and Climate Change,” John O. Niles discusses numbers from different studies of carbon uptake by tropical forests. He points out that there is much variation and uncertainty but ultimately concludes that, even when the most conservative estimates are used, tropical forests provide a substantial sink for atmospheric carbon.

HOW do we know?

Because there is not one given amount of carbon uptake agreed upon by multiple sources, John O. Niles uses numbers from multiple, respected studies and takes the average. Consequently, the amount of carbon Mr. Niles uses to draw his conclusions is more likely to be reasonable.

WHY can this be trusted?

In this clip, John O. Niles mentions that there is uncertainty surrounding the estimates of carbon being taken up by tropical forests. Uncertainty is a fundamental aspect of science, and a form of caution. It is a way of describing how likely your data is to represent real life situations.  Uncertainty in a study does not mean that a study should be thrown out, it is simply a warning that further study may be necessary. By acknowledging uncertainty, scientists allow others to gauge how well the data can be trusted and make judgments accordingly.


John O. Niles’s research indicates that tropical forests are an important system for removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Thus the destruction of rainforests could have a significant impact on the global climate. There is a relationship between the amount of carbon dioxide in the air and atmospheric temperature. Because higher levels of atmospheric carbon cause global temperatures to rise, understanding which ecosystems remove CO2 from the atmosphere could be crucial to slowing global warming.

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Further Reading
Further Reading: 

2002. Editors Schneider, Stephen H., Armin Rosencranz, and John O. Niles. Climate Change Policy: A Survey, Island Press, Washington D.C.

Full PowerPoint from this presentation can be found on the AGCI website.