Carbon sequestration by reforesting legacy grasslands on coal mining sites

James F. Fox, John Elliott Campbell, Peter M. Acton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Future carbon management during energy production will rely on carbon capture and sequestration technology and carbon sequestration methods for offsetting non-capturable losses. The present study quantifies carbon sequestration via reforestation using measurements and modeling for recent and legacy surface coal mining grasslands that are re-restored through tree planting. This paper focuses on a case study of legacy coal mining sites in the southern Appalachia the United States. This five million-hectare region has a surface mining footprint of approximately 12% of the land area, and the reclamation method was primarily grassland. The results of the soil carbon sequestration rates for restored forest soils approach 2.0 MgC ha−1 y−1 initially and average 1.0 MgC ha−1 y−1for the first fifty years after reclamation. Plant, coarse root and litter carbon sequestration rates were 2.8 MgC ha−1 y−1 with plant carbon estimated to equilibrate to 110 MgC ha−1 after forty years. Plant, root and litter carbon stocks are projected to equilibrate at an order of magnitude greater carbon storage than the existing conditions, highlighting the net carbon gain. Reforestation of legacy mine sites shows carbon sequestration potential several orders of magnitude greater than typical land sequestration strategies for carbon offsets. Projections of future scenarios provide results that show the study region could be carbon neutral or a small sink if widespread reforesting during reclamation was implemented, which is contrary to the business-as-usual projections that result in a large amount of carbon being released to the atmosphere in this region.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6340
Issue number23
StatePublished - Dec 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 by the authors.


  • Afforestation
  • Appalachian forests
  • Carbon offsets
  • Mountaintop coal mining
  • Soil carbon sequestration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Control and Optimization
  • Energy (miscellaneous)
  • Engineering (miscellaneous)
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering
  • Fuel Technology
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment


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