Super-cool biocarbon tracking tool

At Climate Solutions, we are delighted to see the term “biocarbon” gain increasing play. It’s a crucial concept for climate stabilization, and  the BioCarbon Tracker  will help spread the word. This cool, new map-based web tool illustrates biocarbon resources around the world. With it you can go anyplace on the globe, designate a “polygon” of up to 2.5 million hectares, and instantly find out total above ground carbon storage in plants, biocarbon storage per hectare, biocarbon losses or gains since 2005 – total and per hectare. 

I spent some time with the Biocarbon Tracker and designated the Olympic Peninsula from Grays Harbor north. The 2.1-million-hectare area – I’m rounding numbers but theirs are specific to the ninth and tenth digit - contains 175 million metric tons (MT) of biocarbon, or 85 MT/hectare.  The region has actually gained 300,000 MT since 2005. 

A 1.6-million-hectare swathe of the Oregon Coast Range from the Columbia south to Florence holds 97 million MT, or 59 MT/hectare. With the decline of logging, the region has picked up 6.6 million MT since 2005, or 4 MT/hectare. 

The forests are the Northwest’s prime carbon reservoir, but farm lands are significant. A polygon covering croplands in the Columbia Basin shows 21 million MT, or 12 MT/hectare. Carbon storage in vegetation has grown 1.9 million MT since 2005, for an increase of 1 MT/hectare. 

Queries will also supply a pie chart of vegetation types in the polygon, and known risk factors such as deforestation. The site notes, “Around 2000 billion tonnes (metric tons) of biocarbon is stored in our forests, woodlands and grasslands and other vegetation. Much of this carbon, possibly as much as 20 years’ fossil fuel emissions, could be lost to the atmosphere over the next century if forests and woodlands continue to be converted to agriculture. But there are also opportunities to increase carbon reserves either by improving the way that land is managed or by creating and restoring forests and woodlands.”

The site is a project of British organizations including Econometrica, a research firm which developed the scientific base, and Green Energy, a major supplier of petroleum- and bio-based fuels. The company’s support no doubt reflects sensitivity over sustainable sourcing of biofuels feedstocks, which has been a controversial issue in Europe, as in the US. The site notes it can be used as a tool for business to build confidence in sustainability of sources, and for NGOs to advocate against destructive land use change. 

Significantly, the tracker does not cover soil carbon storage. Knowledge gaps in this area are greater. One objective of Climate Solutions’ Northwest Biocarbon Initiative is to draw resources for scientific research that improves soil carbon understanding. 


Patrick Mazza's picture
, Climate Solutions

A founding member of the Climate Solutions team, Patrick developed the knowledge base for much of Climate Solutions’ advocacy work and helped shape the sustainability and clean tech agenda of key policymakers, researchers and business leaders around the Northwest. Patrick served as Research Director until the end of 2013, and has now moved on to work through his independent global sustainability consultancy, MROC, and serves as 350 Seattle Sustainable Solutions Working Group co-facilitator and member of its governing Hub.

His series of papers on clean-energy technology and Northwest economic opportunity from 1998-2002 helped catalyze the past decade’s wave of policy activity and investment in the clean economy sector.

Patrick also co-authored Stormy Weather: 101 Solutions to Global Climate Change (New Society, 2001) with Guy Dauncey.

Patrick likes to spend his free time walking, reading history, and playing music. He lives in Seattle and ventures south regularly to sing in a Portland rock band. 

Patrick's email is cascadia2012 (at) gmail.com