The trees in our cities can store as much carbon as rainforests

The trees which line city streets are playing a much greater environmental role than we might expect.

Researchers have found that urban forests have huge untapped potential to store carbon, equivalent to tropical rainforests.

A new study from University College London (UCL) measured every tree in the Borough of Camden using remote laser sensing techniques.

The use of laser pulses led to a complete 3D map which revealed the amount of carbon stored in the borough’s estimated 85,000 trees.

Surprisingly, this heavily populated area in north London can capture the same amount of carbon dioxide as dense tropical rainforests.

Hampstead Heath, one of London’s most popular parks, can store an estimated 178 tonnes of carbon dioxide. The average tropical rainforest can store up to 190 tonnes.

Russell Square, an historic square in the city, and home to a closely packed array of trees, can house the same amount of carbon as temperate mountain regions around the world.

“Urban trees are a vital resource for our cities that people walk past every day. We were able to map the size and shape of every tree in Camden, from forests in large parks to individual trees in back gardens. This not only allows us to measure how much carbon is stored in these trees but also assess other important services they provide such as habitat for birds and insects," said Dr Phil Wilkes, the study’s lead author.

The results are important in highlighting how urban areas can effectively combat climate change by providing natural carbon sinks. This is likely to become much more of an issue as urban populations are estimated to grow exponetially over next few decades. Previous research has also shown how transferring some agricultural practices to the city can support sustainable development.

As a result of their initial success, the researchers plan to take their approach to different parts of London and other cities. The study is published in the Carbon Balance and Management journal.

Photo: Hampstead Heath - Cristian Bortes/CC

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