Rain forests around the world already suffer largely from deforestation. Now, another large threat is appearing as climate change leads to less water and thus less trees.
Both the Indonesian and the Amazonian rain forests are at threat. This phenomenon will lead to even more climate change. This article will show how critical sound forests management are in the mitigation of global warming.
This occurs as I finished Guns, Germs and Steel which reminded me of the fate of the Fertile Crescent, a now semi desertic place. Will our rain forests suffer the same fate ?
Concerning the Amazon, the situation is absolutely critical. Indeed, to Discovery, quoted by TreeHugger:
A 30-year study (!) involving 68 scientists from 13 countries just published in the prestigious journal Science reports bad news: the world’s largest tropical rain forest is more sensitive to drought than previously thought, and the resulting loss of vegetation will have a greater-than-expected effect on carbon sequestration, and thus global warming.
“Researchers said the total impact of the drought was an additional five billion tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere — more than the combined annual emissions of Europe and Japan.”
From Discovery News:
“For years, the Amazon forest has been helping to slow down climate change. But relying on this subsidy from nature is extremely dangerous,” said Professor Oliver Phillips of Britain’s University of Leeds, the lead author of the study.”
If the Earth’s carbon sinks slow or go into reverse, as our results show is possible, carbon dioxide levels will rise even faster. Deeper cuts in emissions will be required to stabilize our climate.”
Visually, most of the Amazon showed little effects of the drought. “But our records prove tree death rates accelerated,” Phillips said.
“Because the region is so vast, even small ecological effects can scale-up to a large impact on the planet’s carbon cycle.”
The Amazon accounts for more than half of the world’s rainforest, covering an area 25 times the size of the United Kingdom.
For more on this, please check out this article.
At the antipodes, the Indonesian rain forests are also suffering a lot. To the New Scientist:
Human activities have turned the world’s third largest rainforest region into a tinderbox that climate change will ignite. So concludes a new study of fire in the forests of Sumatra and Borneo in Indonesia.
Investigators examined the fire history of Indonesian forests by analysing half a century of visibility records at local airports.
“During the late 1970s, Borneo changed from being highly fire-resistant to highly fire-prone during drought years,” says Robert Field, an atmospheric physicist from the University of Toronto. “The abrupt transition can be attributed to rapid increases in deforestation and population growth.”
Field says that human invaders clearing patches of trees for farming destabilised the forest ecosystem, making it drier and more vulnerable to future drought.
Droughts, usually during El Niños in the Pacific, have triggered huge fires in Indonesia seven times since 1960. But Field found that until about 1980, the fires were restricted to Sumatra, where human activity and deforestation rates were highest. The forests of Borneo did not burn.
Then, after humans began invading Borneo’s interior on a larger scale, with rates of deforestation rising above 2%, these forests become vulnerable too. The worst fires were in 1997 to 1998, causing smogs in cities hundreds of kilometres away and at least one plane crash.
The biggest source of smoke and carbon-dioxide emissions during forest fires in southeast Asia is not the trees themselves, says Field, but the burning of peat in the deep swamps on which many forests grow. Once alight, the peat can burn for months (see Bog barons: Indonesia’s carbon catastrophe).
Field’s findings add to growing concern about the Indonesian government’s announcement earlier this month that it has ended a two-year moratorium on turning peatlands into oil palm and tree plantations. The move is bound to cause more fires, says Field.
These are worrying news, but the situation is not hopeless as sustainable solutions exists. I previously wrote about a report by the WWF on the price of the Amazon’s protection.
The United Nations published a recent report on how sustainable practices in forestry could create no less than ten million jobs around the world. To learn out more, please check out this press release.