Critical biomass harvesting – Applying a new concept for Swedish forest soils

Cecilia Akselsson, Salim Belyazid

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The contribution of forest harvesting to base cation losses and soil acidification has increased in recent years in Sweden, as the demand for bioenergy has increased and the sulphur deposition has decreased. Thus, new policy tools are required to evaluate the progress of the recovery from acidification, and as a basis for forest management recommendations. In this study we introduce and test a concept, “Critical biomass harvesting”. The concept builds on the concept “Critical loads”, which has been used world-wide for several decades as a bridge between science and policies related to transboundary air pollution and acidification. The basis for the concept is an acidity mass balance, with sources and sinks of acidity. A critical limit defines the highest acceptable acidification status of the water leaving the root zone. Based on the critical limit, the highest allowed biomass harvesting can be calculated, keeping the other parameters constant. In this study the critical limit was set to ANC (Acid Neutralizing Capacity) = 0. Nitrogen was assumed to be affecting acidity only if it leaches from the root zone. The critical biomass harvesting was calculated for almost 12 000 National Forest Inventory sites with spruce and pine forest, using the best available data on deposition, weathering and nitrogen leaching. The exceedance of critical biomass harvesting was calculated as the difference between the estimated harvest losses and the critical biomass harvesting. The results were presented as median values in merged catchments in a catchment database, with totally 2079 merged catchments in Sweden. According to the calculations, critical biomass harvesting was exceeded in the southern half of Sweden already at stem harvesting in spruce forests. Whole-tree harvesting expanded the exceedance area, and increased the exceedance levels in southern Sweden. The exceedance in pine forest was lower and affected smaller areas. It was concluded that the concept of critical biomass harvesting can be successfully applied on the same database that has been used for critical load calculations in Sweden, using basically the same approach as has been extensively applied, evaluated and discussed in a critical load context. The results from the calculations in Sweden indicate that whole-tree harvesting, without wood ash recycling, can be expected to further slow down recovery, especially in the most acidified parts of the country, in the southwest.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-73
Number of pages7
JournalForest Ecology and Management
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Feb 1

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Environmental Sciences related to Agriculture and Land-use
  • Physical Geography


  • Acidification
  • Base cations
  • Norway spruce
  • Scots pine
  • Sweden
  • Whole-tree harvesting


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