Carbon Accounting

Since 1990, scientists at ESSA Technologies Ltd have been developing and using quantitative tools to model forest carbon.

National Carbon Budget Model

On behalf of Natural Resources Canada, ESSA designed and led the development of a national forest carbon accounting model that began with the single year CBM-CFS; followed by a multi-year version, CBM-CFS2. All versions of CBM track carbon in living trees (including roots), soil, and dead organic matter. Changes (fluxes) in carbon due to growth, natural turnover, management, fire, and large-scale disturbances are also accounted for. The most recent release, CBM-CFS3 has added the ability to simulate afforestation and deforestation. The model is now developed and maintained by the Canadian Forest Service and serves as Canada’s principal forest carbon accounting model.

ESSA’s scientists continue to use and apply the CBM-CFS3 Carbon Budget Model at spatial scales ranging from the stand to the entire country, over time frames ranging from retrospective (1920-1990) to prospective (1990-2034). We have used the model to investigate and address a variety of GHG and forest policy issues, such as the carbon implications of:

  • changes in disturbance types (e.g., the transition from natural disturbances to management),
  • changes in disturbance levels (e.g., increases in mountain pine beetle, spruce budworm outbreaks and area burned),
  • changes in growth and decomposition rates arising from changes in climate, and
  • different management options (e.g., partial cut versus clear cut, planted vs. natural regeneration, and fertilization vs. no fertilization.

We remain the leading experts in the use of the CBM-CFS3 model outside the Canadian Forestry Service.

Forest Products Model

ESSA also led the development of the Forest Products Sector model that tracks carbon in wood products from the point at which carbon leaves the forest, through processing and end-use, and finally into landfills. This model simulates different types of wood and pulp processing, recycling, energy production and use, and landfill dynamics. The Forest Products Sector model provides the ability to quantify and study the impacts of past, present and potential future changes to the management of carbon in harvested wood products. The model can be used to explore the implications of changes in processing efficiency, changes in recycling practices and the use of biofuels. Although not yet available for general use, the Forest Products Sector model is currently used to perform analyses for the Canadian Forest Service and is maintained and regularly enhanced by ESSA.

Other Carbon Models

In addition to these two models, ESSA has recently worked with the USDA Forest Service to develop a carbon accounting module for the Fire and Fuels Extension (FFE) to the Forest Vegetation Simulator, a stand- and landscape-level forest growth model used across the US at federal and state levels. We have also worked with forest companies (notably Weyerhaeuser) to develop customized carbon accounting models that work with their in-house proprietary growth and management models.

Selected Projects


Hoover, C.M. and S. Rebain. 2007. The Kane Experimental Forest carbon inventory: carbon reporting with FVS. In: Crookston, N.L. and R.N Havis (comps.) Third Forest Vegetation Simulator (FVS) Conference, February 13-15, 2007; Fort Collins, CO. Proceedings RMRS-P-xx. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. (in press).
[PPS - off site]

Li, Z, W.A. Kurz, M.J. Apps and S.J. Beukema. 2003. Belowground biomass dynamics in the Carbon Budget Model of the Canadian Forest Sector: recent improvements and implications for the estimation of NPP and NEP. Can. J. For. Res. 33:126-136.

Apps, M.J., W.A. Kurz, S.J. Beukema and J.S. Bhatti. 1999. Carbon budget of the Canadian forest product sector. Environmental Science & Policy 2:25-41.

Kurz, W.A. and M.J. Apps. 1999. A 70-year retrospective analysis of carbon fluxes in the Canadian Forest Sector. Ecol. Appl. 9:526-547.

Kurz, W.A., S.J. Beukema and M.J. Apps. 1998. Carbon budget implications of the transition from natural to managed disturbance regimes in forest ecosystems. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change 2:405-421.
[PDF - 600 kb]

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