Deforestation and global warming
Deforestation could make global warming even worse – increasing temperatures even more than is already happening through climate change. Scientists have been measuring the effects of loss of forests in Brazil and predict that, by 2050, temperatures could increase by almost 1.5°C on top of global warming. To put this in context, the average global temperature increase since the industrial revolution began is around 1°C.
Barry Sinervo, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California Santa Cruz, and co-author of the study, said: “The effect of forests on temperatures is really important. I was very surprised by the impact of these deforested patches on temperatures in adjacent patches of intact habitat. That should be alarming.”
Forests reflect less sunlight and have higher evapotranspiration (water loss from vegetation to the atmosphere) than open vegetation. They also mitigate climate change by taking in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for photosynthesis – and of course are a vital habitat for innumerable plants and animals. The Rainforest Action Network reports that 137 plant and animal species become extinct in tropical rainforests every day.
Until recently, however, quantitative data on how the forests affected temperatures was limited. The scientists – also from Rio de Janeiro State University, the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania – examined data from 2000 to 2010 on forest cover, evapotranspiration, sunlight reflection and land surface temperature in tropical, temperate and boreal (northern subarctic) regions. They published their results last month in US peer-reviewed scientific journal, PLOS ONE.
They found, first of all, that deforestation and forestation generally appeared to have opposite effects of similar magnitude on temperature – which suggests that replenishing the forests would reverse the warming. Second, the effects were different at different latitudes. In tropical and temperate regions, deforestation led to warming and forestation to cooling, with the greatest temperature changes in tropical regions. In boreal regions, deforestation led to slight cooling, though the magnitude of this change was less than in tropical and temperate regions.
Assuming illegal deforestation in Brazil continues at the same rate as now, the researchers predicted that the country’s land surface temperature would rise by up to 1.45°C in places over the next 30 years. In contrast, were Brazil’s Forest Code – a law requiring landowners in the Amazon to maintain 80 percent of land as forest – enforced, the researchers’ temperature map looked dramatically different. With the exception of the Caatinga region in the east of the country, most places experienced no temperature increase or a decrease of up to 0.3°C.
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