How to calculate CO2 sequestration

A key “feature” of a tree is that trees sequester carbon –  the process of removal and long-term storage of carbon dioxide (CO2) from our atmosphere.

EcoMatcher estimates that the trees planted by our partners sequester CO2 at an average of 50 pounds per tree per year; we use an average of 500 pounds over a tree’s lifetime.

The rate of carbon sequestration depends on the growth characteristics of the tree species,the density of its wood, the location’s conditions for growth and the plant stage of the tree.[1]

That said, there are ways to estimate a tree’s CO2 sequestration, see below.

Step 1: Determine the total green weight of the tree

The green weight is the weight of the tree when it is alive. First you have to calculate the green weight of the above-ground weight as follows2:

Wabove-ground= 0.25 DH (for trees with D<11)

Wabove-ground= 0.15 DH (for trees with D>11)

Wabove-ground= Above-ground weight in pounds
D = Diameter of the trunk in inches 
H = Height of the tree in feet

The root system weight is about 20% of the above-ground weight. Therefore, to determine the total green weight of the tree, multiply the above-ground weight by 1.2:

Wtotal green weight = 1.2* Wabove-ground

Step 2: Determine the dry weight of the tree

The average tree is 72.5% dry matter and 27.5% moisture3. Therefore, to determine the dry weight of the tree, multiply the total green weight of the tree by 72.5%. 

Wdry weight = 0.725 * Wtotal green weight

Step 3: Determine the weight of carbon in the tree

The average carbon content is generally 50% of the tree’s dry weight total volume1. Therefore, in determining the weight of carbon in the tree, multiply the dry weight of the tree by 50%.

Wcarbon = 0.5 * Wdry weight

Step 4: Determine the weight of carbon dioxide sequestered in the tree

CO2 has one molecule of Carbon and 2 molecules of Oxygen. The atomic weight of Carbon is 12 (u) and the atomic weight of Oxygen is 16 (u). The weight of CO2 in trees is determined by the ratio of CO2 to C is 44/12 = 3.67. Therefore, to determine the weight of carbon dioxide sequestered in the tree, multiply the weight of carbon in the tree by 3.671.

Wcarbon-dioxide = 3.67 * Wcarbon

Example of CO2 calculation

Tree details:

  • 10 years old
  • 15 feet tall (“H”)
  • 8 inch trunk (“D”)

Wabove-ground= 0.25 DH= 0.25(82)(15) = 240 lbs

Wtotal green weight = 1.2* Wabove-ground= 1.2 * 240 = 288 lbs

Wdry weight = 0.725 * Wtotal green weight= 0.725 * 288 = 208.8 lbs

Wcarbon = 0.5 * Wdry weight  = 0.5 * 208.8 = 104.4 lbs

Wcarbon-dioxide = 3.67 * Wcarbon  = 3.67 * 104.4 = 382.8 lbs CO2 sequestered in 10 years.

Ultimately, the growth of each tree is non-linear, and the greatest sequestration stage is in the younger stages of tree growth, depending on rates and peaks of individual species, with the sequestration of CO2 per year dropping thereafter. CO2 sequestration can differ even within tree species, with multiple factors such as growth conditions also at play. But while the exact CO2 sequestration rates may require more accurate measurements to pinpoint, the impact trees can create is undeniable in our global fight against climate change, in addition to the host of localized functions it can fulfil.

1Carbon sequestration: how much can forestry sequester CO2?, Egbuche, Christian. Forestry Research and Engineering: International Journal. 2018.

2“Total-Tree Weight, Stem Weight, and Volume Tables for Hardwood Species in the Southeast,” Alexander Clark III, Joseph R. Saucier, and W. Henry McNab, Research Division, Georgia Forestry Commission, January 1986.

3“Heating With Wood: Producing, Harvesting and Processing Firewood,” Scott DeWald, Scott Josiah, and Becky Erdkamp, University of Nebraska – Lincoln Extension, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, March 2005.

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