Will Changes in Atmospheric Composition Caused by Fossil Fuel use Affect Pulpwood Quality?


Fossil fuel use is causing an increase in the concentrations of both carbon dioxide and ozone in the atmosphere. Both gases can affect the physiology of trees, so they might affect the quality of wood grown for pulp, i.e., tree stems grown principally to make wood pulp used in paper production and for some other wood products such as oriented strand board. Trees grown as part of the SC Program for Ecosystem Research’s large-scale elevated-carbon-dioxide and elevated-ozone ecosystem experiment in northern Wisconsin provide a unique opportunity to experimentally determine whether future increases in carbon dioxide and ozone concentration might affect pulpwood quality. Using those trees, a team of scientists from Europe and the United States determined that the quality of wood from aspen trees was unaffected by elevated carbon dioxide and ozone concentrations, but that increased carbon dioxide and ozone increased the fraction of undesirable “extractives” in paper birch trees. This result indicates the possibility that the byproducts of fossil-fuel use might have a modestly negative effect on the economically important pulpwood industry. The research was reported earlier this year in the international journal Tree Physiology.