Forests play an important role in regulating the carbon (C) cycle. The main objective of this study was to quantify the effects of South Korean national reforestation programs on carbon budgets. We estimated the changes in C stocks and annual C sequestration in the years 1961–2014 using Korea-specific models, a forest cover map (FCM), national forest inventory (NFI) data, and climate data. Furthermore, we examined the differences in C budgets between Cool forests (forests at elevations above 700 m) and forests in lower-altitude areas. Simulations including the effects of climate conditions on forest dynamics showed that the C stocks of the total forest area increased from 6.65 Tg C in 1961 to 476.21 Tg C in 2014. The model developed here showed a high degree of spatiotemporal reliability. The mean C stocks of the Cool forests and other forests increased from 4.03 and 0.43 Mg C ha−1
, respectively, to 102.43 and 73.76 Mg C ha−1
at a rate of 1.82 and 1.36 Mg C ha−1
during the same period. These results imply that, although the total Cool forest area of South Korea occupied only about 12.3% (772,788 ha) of the total forest area, the Cool forests play important roles in C balances and forest ecosystems in South Korea. Annual C sequestration totals are projected to decrease at a low rate in the near future because the overall growth rate of a mature forest decreases as the stand ages. Our results quantified forest C dynamics in South Korean forests before and after national reforestation programs. Furthermore, our results can help in development of regional and national forest management strategies to allow for sustainable development of society and to cope with climate change in South Korea.
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