Monday, September 10, 2012

Study Shows that Climate Change is Killing Forests

Climate change is causing a massive forest die-off on almost every continent on Earth. Forests are already under threat from illegal logging and land clearing for agriculture. According to a new paper published in the journal Nature Climate Change, trees in forests all around the world are dying due to dry climatic conditions and elevated heat. This study corroborates the notion that global warming is increasing the risk of fires, disease and pest infestations like pine beetles. This die-off is undermining the wide range of ecological and economic benefits that forests provide.

The study, authored by William Anderegg of Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University and Jeffrey Kane and Leander Anderegg of Northern Arizona University, reviews dozens of scientific papers dealing with the ecological impacts of climate change on forests.

Although forests reflect more light and decrease local temperatures, there are a host of other issues that are exacerbated by global warming. Forests reduce the impacts of climate change by sequestering carbon and releasing oxygen, however, less trees means more carbon and less oxygen. This constitutes a dangerous feedback loop. Declining forests are being impacted by global warming and this is interfering with the natural processes that mitigate climate change.

As reviewed in a Mongabay article, "Forests cover 42 million square kilometers or 30 percent of Earth's land surface...Forests store 45 percent of the carbon found in terrestrial ecosystems and sequester as much as 25 percent of annual carbon emissions from human activities, helping mitigate a key driver of climate change...clear-cutting of forests in the tropics accounts for 8-15 percent of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions."

As stated in Science Daily, "From an ecosystem perspective, forest die-off will also likely affect hydrological processes and nutrient cycles...decomposition of fallen trees releases carbon into the atmosphere, thus producing a warming effect...Debris from fallen trees could also increase a forest's fire risk."

These impacts have a very real economic costs. Forests account for trillions of dollars of annual economic activity. Mass tree mortality will incur substantial losses to the timber industry and could cause declines in real-estate property values.

Forests cover 42 million square kilometers or 30 percent of Earth's land surface. Every continent on Earth is being impacted by forests loss with the exception of Antarctica. In the US, there has been an increase in the incidence and severity of forest fires since 2000. A wide range of forest are being impacted including the Redwood forest in Marin, CA. Rainforest in Borneo. Forests in Southeast Asia, the Russian Far East, and the Amazon has been particularly affected by drought over the past 20 years. Roughly a million hectares of Amazon rainforest suffered from severe drought stress in 2010.

Although more research is required, the study suggest a troubling global trend that could cost billions of dollars and substantially accelerate climate change.

© 2012, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.

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