European forests are seen as a clear example of vegetation rebound in the Northern Hemisphere; recovering in area and growing stock since the 1950s, after centuries of stock decline and deforestation. These regrowing forests have shown to be a persistent carbon sink, projected to continue for decades, however, there are early signs of saturation. Forest policies and management strategies need revision if we want to sustain the sink.
This is a preview of subscription content
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $8.25 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Kaupi, P. E., Mielikainen, K. & Kuusela, K. Biomass and carbon budget of European forests, 1971 to 1990. Science 256, 70–74 (1992).
Nabuurs, G. J., Schelhaas, M. J., Mohren, G. M. J. & Field, C. B. Temporal evolution of the European Forest sector carbon sink 1950–1999. Glob. Change Biol. 9, 152–160 (2003).
Pan, Y. et al. A large and persistent carbon sink in the world's forests. Science 333, 988–993 (2011).
Ciais, P. et al. Carbon accumulation in European forests. Nature Geosci. 1, 1–5 (2008).
Vilén, T. Reconstructed forest age structure in Europe 1950–2010. Forest Ecol. Manage. 286, 203–218 (2012).
Kahle, H. P. et al. (eds) Causes and Consequences of Forest Growth Trends in Europe—Results of the RECOGNITION Project (Research Report 21, European Forest Institute, 2008).
Bellassen, V. et al. Reconstruction and attribution of the carbon sink of European forests 1950–2000. Glob. Change Biol. 17, 3274–3292 (2011).
Tomppo, E., Gschwantner, T., Lawrence, M. & McRoberts, R. E. (eds) National Forest Inventories Pathways for Common Reporting (Springer, 2010).
State of Europe's Forests 2011: Status and Trends in Sustainable Forest Management in Europe (FOREST EUROPE, UNECE and FAO, 2011).
De Vries, W. & Posch, M. Modelling the impact of nitrogen deposition, climate change and nutrient limitations on tree carbon sequestration in Europe for the period 1900–2050. Env. Poll. 159, 2289–2299 (2011).
Piao, S. et al. Changes in satellite-derived vegetation growth trend in temperate and boreal Eurasia from 1982 to 2006. Glob. Change Biol. 17, 3228–3239 (2011).
Kint, V. et al. Radial growth change of temperate tree species in response to altered regional climate and air quality in the period 1901–2008. Climatic Change 115, 343–363 (2012).
Piovesan, G. et al. Drought-driven growth reduction in old beech (Fagussylvatica L.) forests of the central Apennines, Italy. Glob. Change Biol. 14, 1–17 (2008).
European Forest Sector Outlook Study II 2010–2030 ECE/TIM/SP/28 (UNECE/FAO, 2011).
Böttcher, H., Verkerk, P. J., Gusti, M., Havlik, P. & Grassi, G. Projection of the future EU forest CO2 sink as affected by recent bioenergy policies using two advanced forest management models. Glob. Change Biol. Bioenergy. 4, 773–783 (2012).
UNFCCC Country submissions; http://www.unfccc.int/di/DetailedByParty.do
Corine Land Cover 1990–2006 Changes for Europe (EEA, 2012).
Köhler, R., Olschofsky, K. & Gerard, G. (eds) Land Cover Change In Europe from the 1950s to 2000: Results of the BIOPRESS Project (Institute for World Forestry, 2006).
The European Environment — State and Outlook 2010: Land Use (EEA, 2010).
Schlüter, O. Die Siedlungsräume Mitteleuropas in Frühgeschichtlicher Zeit: Part 1 Vol. 61 (Forschungen zur Deutschen Landeskunde, 1952).
Schelhaas, M. J., Nabuurs, G. J. & Schuck, A. Natural disturbances in the European forests in the 19th and the 20th centuries. Glob. Change Biol. 9, 1620–1633 (2003).
European Forests — Ecosystem Conditions and Sustainable Use (EEA, 2008).
Grassi, G., Den Elzen, M. G. J., Hof, A., Pilli, R. & Federici, S. The role of the land use, land use change and forestry sector in achieving Annex I reduction pledges. Climatic Change 115, 873–881 (2012).
Luyssaert, S. et al. Old growth forests as global carbon sink. Nature 455, 213–215 (2008).
Harmon, M. E., Ferrell, W. K. & Franklin, J. F. Effects on carbon storage of conversion of old-growth forests to young forests. Science 247, 699–702 (1990).
Nabuurs, G. J. et al. in IPCC Climate Change 2007: Mitigation of Climate Change (eds Metz, B. et al.) 541–584 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007).
Nabuurs, G. J. et al. Hotspots of the carbon cycle in European forests. Forest. Ecol. Manage. 256, 194–200 (2008).
World Forest Inventory (FAO, 1960).
European Timber Trends and Prospects 1950 to 2000 (FAO, 1976).
The Forest Resources of the ECE Region: Europe, the USSR, North America (UNECE, 1985).
The Forest Resources of the Temperate Zones: UN-ECE/FAO 1990 Forest Resource Assessment (UNECE/FAO, 1992).
Forest Resources of Europe, CIS, North America, Australia, Japan and New Zealand ECE/TIM/SP/17 (UNECE /FAO, 2000).
ForesStat roundwood production quantity (FAOSTAT, 2011); available via http://go.nature.com/nN2o44
Forest Product Conversion Factors for the UN-ECE Region ECE/TIM/DP/49 (UNECE, 2010).
Gardiner, B. et al. Destructive Storms in European Forests; Past And Forthcoming Impacts Final report (DG Environment, 2010).
The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of the institutions to which they are affiliated, nor the position of the funding agencies. We are grateful to Lauri Hetemaki of European Forest Institute and to Pep Canadell of the Global Carbon Project for comments on an early draft. We thank national data correspondents who contributed to international statistics and Mart-Jan Schelhaas for an update of Fig. 3. This work is related to and partly done in connection with the COST Action Echoes (FP0703) and the EU funded projects Motive, Trees4Future, Volante, and GHG-Europe (Project Numbers 226544, 284181, 265104 and 244122). Joy B-Burough carried out an English language check.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
About this article
Cite this article
Nabuurs, GJ., Lindner, M., Verkerk, P. et al. First signs of carbon sink saturation in European forest biomass. Nature Clim Change 3, 792–796 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate1853
Tree functional traits, forest biomass, and tree species diversity interact with site properties to drive forest soil carbon
Nature Communications (2022)
Scientific Data (2022)
Climate Dynamics (2022)
Carbon Balance and Management (2021)