On this page we address common questions about the where, when, what and why of Greenland Trees. If additional questions, please contact us.
Where do we plant trees?
We only plant trees in the Arboretum Groenlandicum in Narsarsuaq, south Greenland. The Narsarsuaq climate is sheltered from ice sheet winds and damp North Atlantic weather. This often sunny location is 250 km further south than Iceland where trees also thrive today!
Can trees live in Greenland?
While Greenland may be thought to lack trees, today the island is host to a growing population of shrubs (birch, alder, rowan (mountain-ash) and willow) and trees planted by people since the 1890s. Climate conditions have been warming the past 150 years and increased rainfall has made southern Greenland a very favorable site for tree growth today. Since 1953, people have added an estimated 300,000 trees in several locations across southern Greenland.
Why not plant in an environment where tree growth (CO2 sequestration) is faster? Isn’t afforestation more effective in the tropics?
While it is true that trees grow more slowly in southern Greenland than in the tropics, our sense is that the fire risk is lower where we plant. Further…
- we already work in Greenland each year, conducting climate research on the inland ice sheet. It is the Greenland logistics that we understand and so it’s where we can plant, for us all!
How much CO2 does the new forests remove?
We calculate a carbon uptake per Greenland Tree hectare over 50 years is 111 tons in the above ground tree mass. The amount of carbon storage in the soil is estimated to be 1/4 as much, i.e. 28 tons for a combined total of 139 tons per hectare over 50 years. As the time increases beyond 50 years, the carbon storage will increase.
Which trees do we plant?
We plant Larch trees (Larix Sibirica) and other technically not-exotic species. ~100,000 Larix already exist in the region.
There are many examples of introduced plants expanding beyond first planting areas. How is Greenland tree planting any different?
We plant in fenced, protected, and isolated areas. Today, there is no evidence of spreading of trees from the ~1 hectare 1953 Qanasiassat plantation near Narsarsuaq. Tree growth is relatively slow, so introducing trees presents no immediate out-of-control problem. This is not rabbits in Australia.
On the point of avoiding giving free rides to unwanted life forms from the Icelandic nurseries where we currently source seedlings, Greenland trees has started a native seed propagation program led by gardeners of the Upernaviarsuk experimental farm. Your support of Greenland trees supports accelerating that partnership.
Are the sites permanent?
The Arboretum, inaugurated 2 August, 2004, has municipal protection status.
Were there trees in S Greenland in the past that humans cut down?
Pollen diagrams indicate the presence of birch woodlands in S Greenland before AD 1000, when Norse settlement began. The saga of the Greenlanders mentions ‘felling trees’ in N America, not Greenland. Iceland is know to have been deforested after the arrival of humans. Forest coverage at the Landnám Settlement , Iceland was around 20% but was reduced to below 1%. Any Greenland woodlands and shrubs trees were thus undoubtedly harvested to some degree. Then, introduced sheep grazing certainly destroyed tree regeneration as it does today in non-fenced areas. Land areas were also cleared of stones and shrubs by the Norse for farming and grass silage production.
On disruption, planting trees is a counter-measure for Anthropogenic climate change, itself very disruptive. Widespread sheep farming is highly disruptive, yet is designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage site defined by Norse and Inuit farming.
How to guarantee the Greenland Tree forest will remain?
The forest we plant will persist long after our lives come to an end. We secure the plantations for the indefinite future by working with Greenland communities and authorities to create plantations that have protection status through long term (century) area allotment leases. Besides, there is so much space in Greenland, and trees are such a special sight in the country, that there is no imaginable need for these trees to be removed by humans – ever. Better yet, the forest area will increase once the trees propagate as they have begun to do from trees planted in Greenland 50 years ago.
What is the cost per tree?
Based on the 2019 campaign, we have worked out a ‘hard’ cost per tree that includes all logistical overhead and actually plants two trees given our (conservative) assumed 50% survival rate. That cost is €4.54 per ‘tree’. Again, here a tree is actually two seedlings planted.
Trees absorb more sunlight than bare grass and shrubs. How strong is the warming through this “albedo effect”?
When planting trees in seasonally snow-covered areas, the radiative forcing from albedo reduction by trees indeed partially compensates the cooling forcing from carbon storage (Bala et al 2007, Pitman et al 2009, Pongratz et al 2009, McGrath et al 2015). When snow-covered, forest area in general has ~0.3 lower albedo than non-forest area (Bonan, 2008). Despite evaporational cooling, the overall biophysical effect (evapotranspiration + albedo reduction) of boreal forests (generally North of 45°N) is net warming (Li et al. 2015), especially in wintertime.
Isn’t it so that increased carbon dioxide levels cause plants to retain water that otherwise would have evaporated from their leaves, entered the atmosphere and helped cool the planet?
Yes, but atmospheric moisture content globally and in the Arctic has been increasing in past decades. South Greenland has been receiving more moisture, anyway.
What other counter-balancing impacts are there to planting trees in Greenland?
No environmental intervention is without issues. Yet, the positive effect of carbon capture, youth engagement, and symbolism of giving to nature and not only taking, means that Greenland Trees’ work is net-positive.
How do we engage the local community?
In planting the trees and maintaining the plots, we receive excellent support from the local community. Greenland youth assisted tree planting efforts in the past, sponsored by the south Greenland municipality and getting some financing from supermarket chain Brugseni. Having a Greenland resident in our team is a great way to engage and create enthusiasm among the people who live in the region.
I’ve offset. Can I now keep on flying and using hydrocarbon fuels a lot?
We all should aim to decrease our CO2 emissions in the first place. However, our plantations reduce the amount of CO2 already in the atmosphere.
It would take more than the available arable land to reverse the hundreds of gigatons of CO2 already in the atmosphere. So, what we offer is a way to reduce CO2 impacts while engaging in various other benefits (youth education, sustainable forestry).