Forest biomass carbon sinks in East Asia, with special reference to the relative contributions of forest expansion and forest growth

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Forests play an important role in regional and global carbon (C) cycles. With extensive afforestation and reforestation efforts over the last several decades, forests in East Asia have largely expanded, but the dynamics of their C stocks have not been fully assessed. We estimated biomass C stocks of the forests in all five East Asian countries (China, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, and Mongolia) between the 1970s and the 2000s, using the biomass expansion factor method and forest inventory data. Forest area and biomass C density in the whole region increased from 179.78 × 106 ha and 38.6 Mg C ha−1 in the 1970s to 196.65 × 106 ha and 45.5 Mg C ha−1 in the 2000s, respectively. The C stock increased from 6.9 Pg C to 8.9 Pg C, with an averaged sequestration rate of 66.9 Tg C yr−1. Among the five countries, China and Japan were two major contributors to the total region's forest C sink, with respective contributions of 71.1% and 32.9%. In China, the areal expansion of forest land was a larger contributor to C sinks than increased biomass density for all forests (60.0% vs. 40.0%) and for planted forests (58.1% vs. 41.9%), while the latter contributed more than the former for natural forests (87.0% vs. 13.0%). In Japan, increased biomass density dominated the C sink for all (101.5%), planted (91.1%), and natural (123.8%) forests. Forests in South Korea also acted as a C sink, contributing 9.4% of the total region's sink because of increased forest growth (98.6%). Compared to these countries, the reduction in forest land in both North Korea and Mongolia caused a C loss at an average rate of 9.0 Tg C yr−1, equal to 13.4% of the total region's C sink. Over the last four decades, the biomass C sequestration by East Asia's forests offset 5.8% of its contemporary fossil-fuel CO2 emissions.

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