Landfill site trees: Potential source or sink of greenhouse gases?

Fraser-McDonald, Alice (2023). Landfill site trees: Potential source or sink of greenhouse gases? PhD thesis The Open University.



Tree stems can transport greenhouse gases (GHGs) produced belowground to the atmosphere. Previous studies in natural wetland and upland ecosystems have quantified tree stem fluxes of methane (CH4), carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrous oxide (N2O). However, tree stem GHG fluxes have not previously been measured in the context of managed environments. The work presented in this thesis aimed to quantify GHG fluxes from tree stems on closed landfill sites.

To investigate the potential for trees growing on closed landfill sites to act as conduits for GHGs produced belowground to the atmosphere, GHG fluxes were measured from tree stem and soil surfaces. In situ measurements from a closed landfill site in the UK were examined for spatial and temporal patterns and evaluated against data from a comparable non-landfill area. Measurements were also conducted from landfill sites in the UK with varying management practices and different tree species present. The resulting flux values were scaled up to estimate the magnitude of tree stem GHG fluxes from closed landfills at a national level.

The findings presented here show evidence of tree mediated GHG transport on closed landfill sites and temporal variations in fluxes from tree stems were also observed, with generally higher fluxes in the summer months. Stem CH4 fluxes varied between trees growing on landfill sites with different management practices. Additionally, stem N2O fluxes displayed spatial patterns, with decreasing emissions at increased height from the forest floor, indicating an underground source. Evidence suggested that GHG fluxes from closed landfills are influenced by factors including the quantity of GHG produced in the waste (linked to the age of the site), the susceptibility of the area to waterlogging and landfill management techniques put in place upon closure (for example, clay caps, cover soils and gas extraction). Upscaled CH4 and N2O flux values from tree stems on closed landfill sites corresponded to less than 1% of the total CH4 and N2O emissions reported from UK landfills in 2020.

Overall, results indicated that measuring soil fluxes alone from forested landfill sites would result in an underestimation of the total surface fluxes. However, the emission rates from tree stems on closed landfills observed in this thesis do not exceed those in natural ecosystems. Therefore, with careful planning and management, the recommendation is that trees can be planted on closed landfill sites in the UK without emitting atypical levels of GHGs. However, including gas fluxes from tree stems on closed landfills would increase the accuracy of GHG budgets at national and global levels.

Viewing alternatives

Download history


Public Attention

Altmetrics from Altmetric

Number of Citations

Citations from Dimensions

Item Actions