Relatively untouched by human activity and allowed to attain immense size and age, old-growth forests are environments that exhibit unique properties in a number of dimensions. When allowed to flourish, they can help mitigate some of the environmental consequences of industry and society in ways that a younger forest cannot always match. Unfortunately, these areas are scarce, and often in just as much danger of being stripped for development as younger forests are.

Want a better idea of the benefits that can come from devoting a future environmental career to protecting old-growth forests? Here are some of the most important examples.

Old-Growth Forests Often Have Incredible Biodiversity

Biodiversity, or the number of different species of organisms that inhabit a given area, is a common marker of ecological health. A large number of species being present in a given area typically implies that there is a good balance of available resources, and a relative lack of outside stressors harming the organisms in the environment. Areas with good biodiversity can produce a number of important benefits for their regions and, by extension, the people who live nearby. These include functions like protecting nearby water systems, encouraging the formation of healthy soil, and breaking down ambient air pollution.

Untouched old-growth forests exhibit a number of important properties that younger, disturbed forests may not. An old-growth forest may have more fallen and decaying trees, for example, as well as trees with more established root structures and a higher average height. All of these help shape the local environment, providing a greater variety of habitats, greater access to some important nutrients, greater soil drainage and aeration, and other benefits. These can, in turn, promote the survival of a wider range of organisms in the area.

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Older forests have more diverse characteristics, promoting greater biodiversity

In part because of the way they promote biodiversity, old-growth forests have been identified as critical areas for protection. For individuals pursuing their M.S. in Sustainability, advocacy for leaving as many of these areas as possible untouched is an important and worthy use of their skills. Using learned communication skills to broadcast the importance of doing so to as wide an audience as possible, and making an effort to influence policymakers to make the right choice in preserving old-growth forests, could make a big difference to the future of our planet.

Students Pursuing an M.S. in Sustainability May be Surprised at Old-Growth Forests’ Carbon Intake

A common misconception is that because trees require carbon to grow, younger forests that are still in development are more effective natural carbon sinks than old-growth forests are. Research suggests, however, that it is in fact the oldest trees that serve as the most effective carbon sinks. This is because the oldest, largest trees typically have the greatest mass of leaves, which themselves rely on carbon to grow. When the leaves fall and decompose, some of the carbon does get released back into the atmosphere. Much of it, however, migrates down into the soil, where it can serve as a useful nutrient and not as a contributor to global warming.

M.S. in Sustainability

Decomposing leaves deposit carbon taken from the air back into the ground

With global climate change presenting one of the largest threats to continued human wellbeing, it is likely that many who complete a Master’s in Sustainability program will find their future efforts devoted to the mitigation of this phenomenon. Natural carbon sinks are expected to play an important role in this mission, and with old-growth forests known to be hugely effective in this role, protecting them will be of monumental importance.

Studying at a top school for environmental science can help you develop the skills and knowledge to contribute to this work. Students at Unity College, for example, learn from top academics in the field, and gain the latest and most relevant information for a fruitful career in environmental protection. With the stakes for combating global warming higher than ever, this is a decision that is likely to lead to great opportunities in your future career.

Do you want to embark on a career defending important environments?

Contact Unity College to learn more about completing sustainability studies online!