Sequestration and Green Interment Alternatives

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25 Νοε 2013 (πριν από 3 χρόνια και 11 μήνες)

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The Cemetery as an Ecological Landscape: Carbon
Sequestration and Green Interment Alternatives

Kyla
Palubinskas, Physical and Earth Sciences Department



Abstract


Cemeteries are spaces for interring the dead. While contemporary interment practices utilize methods which
deplete scarce resources and contribute to environmental degradation, cemeteries themselves perform vital
ecological services: habitat preservation, species conservation, and carbon sequestration. In this study we
calculate the
amount of carbon sequestered in two cemeteries: a managed tree stand in Mount Auburn
Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts and an unmanaged tree stand in Rural Cemetery in Worcester,
Massachusetts. The sequestration rates from both cemeteries are compared to the overall sequestration rate of
Harvard Forest

an unmanaged and previously studied wooded area

to show the potential of cemeteries to
remove carbon from the atmosphere. These results highlight the role that cemeteries can play in providing
ecological benefits to the wider communities that surround them, making a case for comprehensive
conservation and cemetery management
strategies
associated with green burial practices
.



Introduction


Cemeteries

are

spaces

for

interring

and

memorializing

the

dead
.

Cemeteries

are

also

spaces

that

perform

ecological

services
.

Open

space

within

cemeteries

acts

as

a

natural

habitat

for

various

species

of

local,

sometimes

endangered,

flora

and

fauna
.

In

urban

areas

cemeteries

act

as

parks,

providing

relief

from

the

bustling

streets

and

highly

polluted

areas

of

industrial

development
.

In

addition

to

providing

open

space

and

natural

habitats

for

various

forms

of

wildlife,

the

tree

stands

located

in

cemeteries

have

the

ability

to

sequester

considerable

amounts

of

carbon
.

Currently

atmospheric

carbon

is

estimated

to

be

increasing

by

approximately

2
.
6

billion

metric

tons

annually

(Nowak,

2001
)
.

Trees,

through

their

growth

process,

act

as

a

sink

for

atmospheric

carbon
.

Therefore,

cemeteries

which

host

tree

stands

are

naturally

able

to

reduce

atmospheric

carbon

levels
.

Despite

the

environmental

benefits

cemeteries

offer,

certain

current

interment

practices

degrade

the

land

and

deplete

natural

resources
.

In

this

time

of

climatic

uncertainty

it

is

crucial

that

we

begin

to

view

cemeteries

as

ecological

reserves

and

use

them

as

such
.



Toxic Burial: Our Final Insult to the
Earth


Contemporary interment practices utilize environmentally harmful
methods.
Coffins, vaults, and embalming
(except under rare circumstances) are not required by law in any state, yet all are commonly used. In the United
States,
death
-
care
has become a $15 billion industry

and a wasteful and toxic one at that. Each year we bury
:



Enough
embalming fluid (now made up of formaldehyde, a known carcinogen according to the World Heath
Organization) to fill eight Olympic
-
size
pools



More
steel (in coffins alone) than was used to build the Golden Gate
Bridge



Enough
reinforced concrete
to construct
a two
-
lane highway from New York to
Detroit

(
Sehee
, 2007)



Approximately

30

million

trees,

including

some

tropical

species,

which

are

manufactured

into

coffins

(
Woodsen
,

1998
)
.




Though

these

“traditional”

burial

practices

have

been

utilized

for

roughly

a

century,

it

would

be

beneficial

to

return

to

earlier,

more

sustainable,

methods

of

interment
.

One

potential

way

to

go

about

this

is

through

the

propagation

of

what

are

commonly

called

“green

burials”
.


Dying to be Green: An Environmentally Friendly Method of Interment


Green

burials

emphasize

the

use

of

biodegradable

materials

made

from

renewables,

instead

of

the

exotic

woods

and

metals

associated

with

“traditional”

coffins
.

Green

burials

allow

for

plots

to

be

recycled
.

C
omplete

decomposition

takes

a

year,

as

opposed

to

the

decades

it

takes

for

a

casketed

corpse

to

decompose
.

Green

burials

eliminate

the

use

of

hazardous

chemicals

necessary

for

embalming,

helping

to

avoid

potential

soil

and

groundwater

contamination
.

Additionally,

green

burials

commonly

use

trees

as

grave

markers
.

By

doing

so,

these

types

of

burials

naturally

promote

the

growth

of

forests

in

cemeteries
.



Carbon
Sequestration


Forests

are

a

significant

part

of

the

global

carbon

cycle
.

Through

the

process

of

photosynthesis,

plants

use

the

energy

they

receive

from

sunlight

to

convert

nutrients

and

atmospheric

CO
2

into

carbohydrates
.

As

more

photosynthesis

occurs,

more

carbon

is

sequestered,

reducing

carbon

in

the

atmosphere

and

storing

it

above

and

below

ground
.

Since

cemeteries

often

contain

tree

stands,

they

have

the

ability

to

both

sequester

carbon

and

affect

the

rate

and

quantity

of

emissions

of

CO
2

from

urban

areas
.


Methods


Field
Methods


This

research

was

conducted

at

Mount

Auburn

Cemetery,

a

managed

forest,

in

Cambridge

MA,

and

Rural

Cemetery,

an

unmanaged

forest

in

Worcester,

MA
.

At

Mount

Auburn,

a

pre
-
existing

dataset

containing

measurements

from

1996

was

also

used
.

At

each

site,

diameter

tape

was

used

to

measure

tree

diameter

at

breast

height

(DBH)
.

At

Mount

Auburn,

trees

in

sections

10
,

33
,

and

41

were

measured,

while

at

Rural

Cemetery,

all

trees

inside

the

cemetery

perimeter

were

measured
.

DBH

measurements

were

coded

according

to

the

species
-
specific

codes

of

Jenkins,

et

al

(
2004
)

and

entered

into

a

spreadsheet
.

DBH

was

converted

to

aboveground

biomass

(total

dry

weight

of

portion

of

tree

above

ground)

using

species
-
specific

allometric

equations

(Jenkins

et

al
.
,

2004
)
.

Aboveground

biomass

was

converted

to

carbon

by

taking

the

sum

of

biomass

and

dividing

by

2

(Fahey

et

al
.
,

2005
)
.




Entire Cemetery

Section 10



Section 33

Section 41

Sections 10, 33,
and 41

1996 Carbon
Storage

44.8
MgC
/ha

49.6
MgC
/ha

49.7
MgC
/ha

32.9
MgC
/ha

44.9
MgC
/ha

2012 Carbon
Storage


66.7
MgC
/ha

71.9
MgC
/ha

73.5
MgC
/ha

53.7
MgC
/ha

67.1
MgC
/ha

Annual
Above
-

ground
Sequestration


1.4
MgC
/
hayr


1.4
MgC
/
hayr

1.5
MgC
/
hayr

1.3
MgC
/
hayr

1.4
MgC
/
hayr

Results

Table
3:
Carbon Storage, Mount Auburn Cemetery

T
hese results
show a significant
increase
in the total amount of carbon stored in
the entire cemetery and
sections 10, 33, and 41
from
1996
-
2012.
Based on these results, we can attribute Mount Auburn’s increased
carbon retention rates to its management practices and abundant planting of trees.


Table

4
:

%

of

Carbon

Sequestered

by

Rural

Cemetery

based

on

%

of

carbon

sequestered

annually

at

Mount

Auburn

Cemetery

and

Harvard

Forest

These

results

suggest

that

the

more

managed

a

forest

is,

the

more

carbon

it

will

sequester
.

These

results

also

suggest

that

all

forests,

managed

or

unmanaged,

are

able

to

sequester

considerable

amounts

of

carbon
.

It

is

important

to

note

that

Mount

Auburn’s

estimated

annual

carbon

sequestration

sets

an

unrealistic

standard
.

Few

forests

are

likely

to

receive

the

intensive

management

practiced

at

Mount

Auburn

Cemetery
.


Conclusion


Death

is

an

inevitable

part

of

life
;

however,

placing

an

unnecessary

strain

on

a

fragile

ecosystem

is

not
.

In

continuing

traditional

burial

practices

we

are

not

only

disrespecting

the

Earth

but

also

doing

a

great

disservice

to

future

generations
.

Left

unaltered,

current

interment

practices

will

make

it

so

future

generations

do

not

have

the

luxury

of

burying

the

dead

in

our

present

elaborat

cemeteries
.

Green

burials

offer

an

alternative

to

this

bleak

situation
.

Utilizing

interment

practices

which

are

ecologically

sound

not

only

allow

us

to

rest

in

harmony

with

nature,

but

also

helps

to

reduce

carbon

emissions
.

Since

trees

are

often

used

as

grave

markers

for

natural

burials

these

types

of

interment

practices

can

improve

the

tree

stands,

ecosystems,

and

carbon

sequestration

rates

of

cemeteries
.



Table 1: Mount
Auburn Data
Analysis
(See
Table 3 for results)

Rural
Cemetery Data
Analysis


Using

the

same

field

methods,

the

total

carbon

sequestered

in

MgC
/ha

was

determined

by

dividing

the

total

amount

of

carbon

(
941464

kg
)

by

the

area

of

the

cemetery

(
13
.
1

ha
)
.

(See

Table

4
:

row

1
:

column

2
)

*Known
: Harvard Forest’s (
Urbanski

et al., 2007) total forest carbon sequestration
(aboveground, belowground and soil) is
approximately 2.4
times larger than its annual above
-
ground
sequestration


(control), its annual above
-
ground sequestration is 1.04
MgC
/ha/
yr
, and its total carbon
storage is 115
MgC
/ha).* Harvard Forest was used because carbon sequestration rates were known and it is an unmanaged forest which could be
compared to Rural Cemetery.


Data Point

Operation

Amount of carbon sequestered per ha for
cemetery in 1996 (See

T
able 3: row1:column

1)


Total

carbon
divided
by 71
ha (are
a of Mount
Auburn)

Amount of carbon sequestered per ha in
sections 10, 33, and
41 in 1996 (See

Ta
ble

3: row
1: column 5)

Isolate
and sum

carbon estimates
for
these
sections;
divide total

carbon
by

5.3 ha (area of sections 10,
33, and 41)

Amount of carbon sequestered per ha in
sections 10, 33, and
41

in 2012 (See Table 3:

row
2: column 5)

Isolate

and s
um carbon

estimates

for these
sections;

divide

total carbon

by 5.3
ha (area

of
sections 10, 33, and 41)

Amount of

carbon sequestered per ha in each
individual section in 1996 and 2012 (See Table
3: rows 1 &2: columns 2, 3 & 4)

Isolate and sum carbon estimates for each
individual section and divide the total

carbon
estimate for each section

by the area of each
section ;

Section 10
-

2.76 ha: Section 33
-

1.02 ha:
Section 41
-

1.5 ha

Annual above
-
ground carbon
sequestration rate
for sections 10, 33, and
41 and
entire cemetery
(See
Table 3: row 3:
columns

1
-
5
)

Divide the difference in carbon storage from 1996
-
2012 by
16 (# of years from 1996
-
2012)

Estimate of carbon sequestered per ha for
cemetery,

in 2012 (See Table 3: row 2: column 1)

Subtract 1996

total
carbon

estimate for selected
sections (10, 33, 41) from 2012 total carbon
estimate for selected sections and divide by 1996
total carbon estimate for selected sections. This
suggested that an increase in carbon storage of
about 50% from 1996
-
2012 occurred. This
estimate of a 50% increase was applied to the
entire cemetery’s 1996 data to come up with an
estimated sequestration for 2012.

Data

Point

Operation


The total
annual carbon sequestration ( above
-
ground and below
-
ground and soil)

(See Table 3: row 3: column 1)

Multiply 2.4 by the
annual

above
-
ground
sequestration

(for Mount Auburn this
would

be 1.4
MgC
/
hayr
)*

Mount Auburn
-

2.4 X 1.4
MgC
/
hayr

= 3.36
MgC
/
hayr

Harvard Forest
-

2.4 X 1.04
MgC
/
hayr

= 2.5
MgC
/
hayr


The %
of

carbon
sequestered annually

Divide total
annual carbon
sequestration by
total
carbon storage (for Mount Auburn this would be the
2012 total for entire cemetery)

Mount Auburn
-
3.36/66.7=

5% ( this means 5% of
total carbon is sequestered annually)

Harvard Forest
-

2.5/115= 2.2% (this means that 2.2%
of total carbon is sequestered annually)

The carbon sequestration potential of Rural
Cemetery (based on Mount Auburn rate
) (See
Table

4: row 2: column 2)

Multiply total
carbon (71
MgC
/ha) by
the
%
of
carbon

sequestered annually
by Mount
Auburn (5.0%)

The carbon sequestration potential of Rural
cemetery (based on Harvard Forest rate
) (See

Table 4: row 3: column 2)

Multiply

total carbon (71
MgC
/ha)
by the
%

of carbon
sequestered annually
by
Harvard Forest (2.2%)

Total Carbon

71
MgC
/ha

Carbon

sequestration potential based on Mount
Auburn annual % of carbon sequestration

3.6

MgC
/
hayr


Carbon

sequestration potential based on Harvard
Forest annual % of carbon sequestration

1.5

MgC
/
hayr

Advisors: Dr. Allison Dunn, Dr. Patricia Benjamin and

Dr. Stephen Healy

Table

2
:

Calculating

the

amount

carbon

sequestered

from

the

atmosphere


by

Rural

Cemetery

based

on

the

%

of

carbon

sequestered

annually

by

Mount

Auburn

Cemetery

and

Harvard

Forest

(an

unmanaged

forest)

in

Petersham
,

MA

(See

Table

4

for

results
)

Mount Auburn Cemetery,


Cambridge, MA

(a managed forest)

Rural Cemetery, Worcester, MA

(an unmanaged forest)

ha= hectare

MgC
/
hayr
= Mega grams of carbon per hectare per year; 1 mega gram= 1 metric ton or 1000 kilograms; 1 hectare= 2.47 acres.