We already know that the world’s forests play a vital role in extracting and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But new research reveals that these natural carbon captors play an even more critical role when it comes to tackling the planet’s climate crisis.
A recent study by researchers from the US and Colombia, The Unseen Effects of Deforestation: Biophysical Effects on Climate, found that forests help keep the planet at least half-a-degree Celsius cooler when particular biophysical effects are combined with carbon dioxide. Tropical forests situated in countries like Brazil, Guatemala, Chad, Cameroon and Indonesia are especially significant in sustaining a stable climate, given that their cooling effect is more than one degree Celsius.
Forest cooling is due to a range of biophysical effects. Forests emit organic compounds which create vapors that reflect incoming energy and form clouds – both are cooling effects. This allows trees to divert heat and moisture away from the Earth’s surface, which directly cools the local area and influences cloud formation and rainfall.
In the tropics, where carbon storage rates are highest, the biophysical effects of forests amplify the benefits of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide. Less carbon in the atmosphere reduces the greenhouse gas effect, thus diminishing the impacts of climate change. Tropical deforestation, therefore, means that there is an immediate rise in dangerously high temperatures and a decrease in regional and local rainfall.
“The current tropical deforestation rates have catastrophic consequences for our climate,” says Tayla Lance of Animal Survival International. “Forest cooling helps to protect us from droughts, extreme heat and floods caused by global warming. It is imperative that we preserve and expand forest cover if we are to reverse the effects of deforestation.”